British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a clampdown over social distancing in the UK amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Until now people have been advised to stay at home, but this has not been compulsory. Now they have been told they can only go out for specific listed purposes, or face fines.
The measures bring the UK more into line with other European countries which have suffered badly from COVID-19.
Speaking live on television on Monday night, Boris Johnson said people “must stay at home” to stop the disease from spreading between households.
He added that from now on, they can only leave leave home for the following “very limited purposes”:
- to go shopping for basic necessities only, as infrequently as possible
- to do one form of exercise once a day, alone or with other members of the household
- to seek any medical need, to provide care or help a vulnerable person
- to travel to and from work, but only if it is absolutely necessary and working at home is not possible
The prime minister warned that if too many people became ill at once, the UK’s health service “would not be able to handle it”, meaning more people would die. That was why it was vital to slow the spread of the virus, he added.
People should not be meeting friends or family members who lived elsewhere, Johnson said.
Fines could be imposed
The police will be given powers to enforce the rules, including fines and dispersing gatherings, said the prime minister, who went on to add more measures.
- The country is to close all shops selling non-essential goods, as well as libraries, gyms, playgrounds and places of worship
- Gatherings of more than two people are being banned, other than with members of the same household
- All social events including weddings and baptisms are being stopped, but not funerals
- Parks remain open for exercise but gatherings will be dispersed
The measures will be under constant review and may be relaxed in three weeks’ time if the evidence allowed it, the prime minister said.
Opposition calls for more protection
Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn welcomed Johnson’s statement as the “right response”, one that his party had been calling for.
He added that clearer guidance was needed on workplace arrangements, and the government needed to tighten protection for all workers, tenants and home owners.
Johnson’s message was echoed by Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who made a similar appeal in her own address to the Scottish people; “Lives really do depend on it,” she tweeted.
The British authorities have been criticised at home and abroad for not being strict enough until now in trying to stop the spread of the virus.
The prime minister announced on Friday the UK would be closing bars, restaurants, cinemas and theatres to prevent the spread of the virus.
But people have still been going outside and visiting open spaces and tourist resorts in large numbers.
The British government said on Monday that 335 patients had now died from coronavirus, a rise of 54 from the previous day. The number of positive cases rose by nearly 1,000 to 6,650.
“The way ahead is hard, and it is still true that many lives will sadly be lost,” Boris Johnson told the country.
“Yet it is also true that there is a clear way through,” he added, saying that medical resources were being increased and research stepped up.