LONDON — Sunday was Mother’s Day in Britain and the government had a stark message for millions of citizens: Visiting your mom could kill her.
In a message to the nation, Prime Minister Boris Johnson implored Britons to forego the day’s traditional family visits, parties and Sunday lunches since authorities could not “disguise or sugarcoat the threat” poised by the coronavirus pandemic.
“If your mother is elderly or vulnerable, then I am afraid all the statistics show that she is much more likely to die from coronavirus,” he said. “This time, the best thing is to ring her, video call her, Skype her, but to avoid any unnecessary physical contact or proximity.”
As Britain struggles with how strongly to crack down on everyone’s daily movements to slow the spread of COVID-19, Johnson has been accused of sending mixed messages. On Friday, he said he hoped to see his 77-year-old mother on Mother’s Day. His office later said he would speak to her by Skype.
People have found creative ways to stay in touch. Some sons and daughters left Mother’s Day bouquets on doorsteps. Other families planned to sit down for a meal at the same time but in different homes, linked by FaceTime or Skype.
Social entrepreneur Affi Parvizi-Wayne usually gets together with her extended family in London on Mother’s Day, which coincides with the Persian New Year and her mother Afsar’s birthday.
“It’s a big deal for us. She cooks, we go round there, we all go for a walk — it’s a whole-day event,” she said.
This year, 74-year-old Afsar cooked a traditional New Year’s meal of herbed rice and fish from ingredients dropped off on her doorstep. Parvizi-Wayne plans to deliver the food to relatives nearby and hold a virtual family meal.
“She’s going to sit at the top of the virtual dining table,” Parvizi-Wayne said.
Middle Eastern countries faced the same dilemma when they celebrated Mother’s Day on Saturday. Many people took to social media to lament the fact that they would not be able to visit family members, while others thanked mothers who spent the holiday working as doctors or nurses. A popular online greeting card praised mothers as the original advocates of hand-washing.
The U.K. government is scrambling to toughen its response to the coronavirus outbreak amid criticism it did not act quickly enough to close schools, pubs and restaurants. Britain has 5,018 confirmed cases and 233 deaths but is following a similar contagion path to hard-hit Italy, which now has the most virus deaths in the world at 4,825.
Johnson warned late Saturday that Britain will face a crisis on the scale of Italy’s in just two or three weeks, saying the health system will be “completely overwhelmed” if people do not heed instructions to stay home and avoid contact with others now.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever or coughing. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness. Worldwide, some 312,000 people have been infected and over 13,000 have died, while 93,000 have recovered.
As the virus upends daily life around the world, authorities, charities and individuals are seeking ways to make people feel less isolated.
The British government has told up to 1.5 million sick and elderly people considered the most vulnerable to stay home for at least 12 weeks to avoid getting infected. Special deliveries of groceries and medicine will brought in to them by public agencies, the military, food retailers and volunteers.
Churches across Britain held services Sunday without congregations, streaming them online. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, head of the Church of England, led a service on national radio, urging people at home to join in with the prayers and hymns. ___
The Coronavirus Brief. Everything you need to know about the global spread of COVID-19
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