London — The United Kingdom woke up Tuesday to a country-wide lockdown. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced strict new measures Monday night to close all but “essential” businesses and keep people largely confined to their homes. The move came after weeks of criticism that the government wasn’t doing enough to fight the U.K.’s coronavirus outbreak.
“From this evening I must give the British people a very simple instruction: You must stay at home,” Johnson said in a pre-recorded address delivered straight to camera.
The iconic Abbey Road crossing is seen after a re-paint by a Highways Maintenance team as they take advantage of the COVID-19 coronavirus lockdown and quiet streets to refresh the markings on March 24, 2020 in London, England.
The only reason people are permitted to leave their homes now is to get essential supplies and exercise — but they’ve been urged to use food delivery services, and are permitted only one workout per day outside their homes, either alone or with other members of the same household.
“At present there are just no easy options,” Johnson said. “The way ahead is hard, and it is still true that many lives will sadly be lost. And yet it is also true that there is a clear way through.”
The police have the power to fine people for violating the rules and to disperse gatherings of more than two people.
For weeks Johnson’s government has been criticized for acting too slowly, with many fearing the U.K. could be on course for an outbreak as severe as Italy’s.
Italy continues to face greatest coronavirus challenge
As other European nations including Germany, France, Belgium and Denmark closed businesses and confined people to their homes, the U.K. — until Monday night — merely advised people to work from home if possible, and to practice social distancing.
Despite the new guidance, there was still some confusion Tuesday morning as some businesses wondered if they could be classified as selling “essential goods.”
Major sporting goods chain Sports Direct said it would keep its stores open during the lockdown, arguing its good were required to enable permitted exercise. But the move triggered major backlash on social media, and an eventual change of course by the company.
Images of a busy rush hour commute on packed London public transportation were posted online, prompting Mayor Siddiq Khan to speak out.
“I cannot say this more strongly: we must stop all non-essential use of public transport now,” Khan tweeted. “Ignoring these rules means more lives lost.”