Boris Johnson has outlined strict new measures to tackle the spread of coronavirus, including a ban on public gatherings of more than two people.
In a televised statement on Monday evening, the prime minister ordered people to leave their homes only under a list of “very limited purposes”.
He also ordered the immediate closure of shops selling non-essential goods.
But police chiefs warned of phone lines being inundated with calls about what movements were still permitted.
As of Monday, some 335 people have died with the virus in the UK.
Speaking from Downing Street, Mr Johnson said the country faced a “moment of national emergency” and staying at home was necessary to protect the NHS, save lives and tackle “the biggest threat this country has faced for decades”.
He said people should leave home only to exercise once a day, to travel to and from work where “absolutely necessary”, to shop for essential items and to fulfil any medical or care needs.
Police and local authorities will have powers to disperse gatherings, including through fines.
The restrictions would be under constant review and a relaxation of the rules would be considered in three weeks, he said.
“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,” he said.
The prime minister’s spokesman said many ministers would dial into Tuesday’s cabinet meeting remotely, to comply with social distancing measures.
The new measures came amid fears people were disregarding the government’s social distancing advice.
At the weekend, crowds of people were seen at beaches, parks, markets and other public spaces.
The new guidance says people should only leave their homes for one of four reasons:
- Shopping for basic necessities such as food and medicine. Shopping trips should be as infrequent as possible
- One form of exercise a day such as a run, walk or cycle. This should be done alone or only with people you live with
- Any medical need, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person. This includes moving children under the age of 18 between their parents’ homes, where applicable. Key workers or those with children identified as vulnerable can continue to take their children to school
- Travelling to and from work, but only where work absolutely cannot be done from home
Even when following the above guidance, people should minimise the amount of time spent out of their homes and should keep two metres (6ft) away from people they do not live with.
The government is also stopping all social events, including weddings, baptisms and other ceremonies – but funerals attended by immediate family members are allowed.
Businesses that will not need to close include supermarkets, petrol stations, post offices and banks.
But premises such as libraries, non-essential shops, playgrounds, outdoor gyms and places of worship have been ordered to close.
Hotels, hostels, campsites and caravan parks must also close unless key workers need to stay there, or if other people staying there cannot return to their primary residence.
Parks will remain open for exercise but people are not allowed to gather in groups.
Community centres can stay open but only for the purpose of “hosting essential voluntary or public services” such as food banks or service for homeless people, the guidance says.
Some 83,945 people in the UK have been tested for coronavirus with 6,650 testing positive. However, the true number of cases will be far higher as tests are primarily done on hospital patients with symptoms of the virus.
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.
Not surprisingly, there is already therefore enormous controversy about whether the UK has been acting fast enough.
But there were calls for more information about the guidance after the prime minister scrapped his daily press conference on Monday to announce the measures in a statement.
Lincolnshire Police warned of an “extremely high volume” of calls and Humberside Chief Constable Lee Freeman said his force had received “a number of calls” on the subject, which he said he was unable to answer.
Ken Marsh, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, said enforcing the new restrictions would be “a real, real challenge”, as there was already “large amounts of sickness” among officers across London.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said in a tweet that the next few weeks would be “testing” for police but she would make sure officers had “the resources they need to keep themselves and the public safe”.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the measures were “the right response” but called for more guidance on workplace closures.
“The government must close the loopholes to give security to all workers, including the self-employed, as well as renters and mortgage holders,” he said.
The prime minister said he knew the “damage” the restrictions were causing to people’s lives, businesses and jobs – and said “many lives will sadly be lost” despite the measures.
But he added 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.
In other key developments:
- Sports Direct has said it will keep its stores open, in spite of the new government measures
- Emergency legislation introducing measures to respond to the virus will go before the House of Lords later after it passed through the Commons on Monday evening
- Carmakers are answering calls from governments to help make more ventilators and face masks
- The number of worldwide cases has reached 350,000, with nearly 15,000 deaths. The World Health Organization warns the pandemic is “accelerating”
- And an International Olympic Committee member says Tokyo 2020 will be postponed until 2021 – although an official announcement is yet to be made
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