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Coronavirus: Strict new curbs on life in UK announced by PM

Coronavirus: Strict new curbs on life in UK announced by PM

  • 23 March 2020
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Media captionBoris Johnson: "You must stay at home"

Strict new curbs on life in the UK to tackle the spread of coronavirus have been announced by the prime minister.

From this evening people must stay at home except for shopping for basic necessities, daily exercise, any medical need and travelling to and from essential work.

Shops selling non-essential goods are being told to shut and gatherings in public of more than two people who do not live together are to be prohibited.

The UK death toll has reached 335.

If people do not follow the rules police will have the powers to enforce them, including through fines and dispersing gatherings, Boris Johnson said in a televised statement from Downing Street.

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Other premises including libraries, playgrounds and outdoor gyms, and places of worship must also close immediately.

Parks will remain open for exercise but gatherings will be dispersed.

The government is also stopping all social events, including weddings, baptisms and other ceremonies - but funerals will be allowed.

Mr Johnson said the country faced a "moment of national emergency" and staying at home was necessary to protect the NHS and save lives.

He said the restrictions would be kept under constant review.

"We will look again in three weeks, and relax them if the evidence shows we are able to," he added.

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Media captionWhat is social distancing?

Martin Hewitt, chair of the National Police Chiefs' Council, said they were "working with the government and other agencies to consider how these new rules can be most effectively enforced".

But Ken Marsh, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, said he was already seeing "large amounts of sickness" among officers across London and enforcing the new restrictions would be "a real, real challenge".

"We will be dealing with it, but I'm not sure we will have the resources to be able to see it through," he added.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said in a tweet: "I know that the coming weeks will be testing for our front-line police officers.

"I will do everything I can to ensure that they have the resources they need to keep themselves and the public safe."

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Image caption Clapham Common in London was among the parks across the UK busy over the weekend

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the new restrictions "amount to a lockdown" and are "not done lightly".

"I am not going to sugarcoat it in any way," she said. "Coronavirus is the biggest challenge of our lifetime."

In a tweet, First Minister of Northern Ireland Arlene Foster urged people to follow the restrictions "to save lives and protect our hospitals".

First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford said "these are really big changes for us all".

"We are making them because of the speed the virus is continuing to spread," he added.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the measures were "the right response".

"There now needs to be clear guidance to employers and workers about which workplaces should close - and the government must close the loopholes to give security to all workers, including the self-employed, as well as renters and mortgage holders," he added.

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The prime minister said the measures were necessary to tackle "the biggest threat this country has faced for decades".

"Without a huge national effort to halt the growth of this virus, there will come a moment when no health service in the world could possibly cope; because there won't be enough ventilators, enough intensive care beds, enough doctors and nurses," he said.

"And as we have seen elsewhere, in other countries that also have fantastic health care systems, that is the moment of real danger.

"To put it simply, if too many people become seriously unwell at one time, the NHS will be unable to handle it - meaning more people are likely to die, not just from coronavirus but from other illnesses as well."

Ministers and officials have become concerned about reports of people failing to observe the advice about social distancing.

The sunny weather at the weekend led to people flocking to parks and other outdoor places to enjoy the start of spring, while images of commuters packed on to trains and tubes have also raised alarm.

The figures show the number of positive cases are beginning to rise quickly and there is a desire - now we have gone down this route - that the gains from reducing social contact are maximised.

If we halve exposure, new infections could fall by more than 95%.

Scientists currently believe that each person with coronavirus infects 2.5 people and that takes about five days. Thirty days after that first infection, that means more than 400 people will be infected.

But if we all reduce our exposure by half, after 30 days, that first infection would have led to only 15 infections.

The prime minister said he knew the "damage" the restrictions were causing to people's lives, businesses and jobs but at present there were "no easy options".

"The way ahead is hard, and it is still true that many lives will sadly be lost," he said.

However, Mr Johnson said there was "a clear way through", by strengthening the NHS with former clinicians returning to work, accelerating the search for treatments and a vaccine and buying millions of testing kits.

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Media captionSaturday was the "busiest ever visitor day in living memory" in Snowdonia, officials say

A further 46 people have died in England since Sunday - aged between 47 and 105 and all with underlying health conditions - while there were four deaths in Scotland and four in Wales.

There have been 83,945 tests to date, with 6,650 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK.

Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Britons travelling abroad should return to the UK as soon as possible because international travel is becoming more difficult with the closure of borders and the suspension of flights.

And people in the most at-risk groups have begun receiving an NHS text urging them to stay at home for 12 weeks.

It seems hard to overstate how huge an impact this will have on the country, and what a massive decision this is for the government to have taken - whose effect will last at least for a period of three weeks at the shortest, potentially for very much longer.

Remember this though is not quite the kind of total crackdown we have seen in other countries - at least not yet. Despite tonight's enormous announcement, there are steps that other places have taken - curfews or total travel bans for example - that the UK is not pursuing.

The government is not triggering the Civil Contingencies Act, designed for the most serious emergencies which gives ministers draconian powers.

Not surprisingly, there is already therefore enormous controversy about whether the UK has been acting fast enough.

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Later on Monday night, following Mr Johnson's address, emergency legislation introducing measures to respond to the outbreak cleared the House of Commons and will now go to the Lords for further debate.

Under the legislation, airports could shut and police would be able to force people with virus symptoms to isolate.

The powers, which would have to be renewed every six months, are expected to be approved by MPs.

Elsewhere, the British Olympic Association said Great Britain will not send a team to Tokyo 2020 if the spread of coronavirus continues as predicted.

The International Olympic Committee has given itself four weeks to decide on the future of the Games, but Australia and Canada have already announced they will not compete this summer.

In other key developments:

  • The government has announced a package of measures to help the UK rail industry and promised commuters with season tickets that they will receive a refund if they choose to stay at home
  • Germany has expanded curbs on social interactions, banning public gatherings of more than two people
  • The number of worldwide cases has reached 340,000, with nearly 15,000 deaths
  • Italy reported 602 new deaths on Monday, bringing the total there to 6,078 - but South Korea has reported the lowest number of new cases since infections peaked
  • Thousands of retired medics answered the government's call to return to work to help with the outbreak - including 4,000 nurses and 500 doctors
  • All new jury trials in England and Wales have been halted until they can be conducted safely, the Lord Chief Justice has announced