UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson told people that “you must stay at home” and drastically restricted movement on Monday (23 March) to curb the spread of coronavirus, as fears grew that people were not sufficiently respecting guidance on social distancing.
The new measures will restrict movement to shopping for food and medicines; one form of exercise a day; medical care; and travelling to and from work, but only where it is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home.
“From this evening I must give the British people a very simple instruction – you must stay at home,” Johnson said in a public address, adding that combating the spread of the virus was “the biggest threat this country has faced for decades”.
“If you don’t follow the rules the police will have the powers to enforce them, including through fines and dispersing gatherings,” he added. The restrictions will stay in place for at least three weeks and mirror measures already imposed across much of Europe.
UK ministers and officials believe that the UK is several weeks behind Italy, the country worst hit by the coronavirus, and had become increasingly concerned that many people were failing to observe advice about social distancing.
All pubs, restaurants and cafes have been closed for over a week but warm weather at the weekend saw Brits flock to the coast and public parks at the weekend. Meanwhile, most of the London metro network has remained open with many trains filled with packed commuters.
Although the death toll from coronavirus has increased to 335, the government’s medical advisors have warned that the spike in confirmed cases and deaths is likely to continue over the next two weeks.
However, they want to ensure that the National Health Service is not overwhelmed by an Italy-style increase in cases.
Emergency legislation covering both economic and social responses to the COVID-19 pandemic is also expected to go through the UK parliament this week.
[Edited by Sam Morgan]