Prime Minister Boris Johnson has toughened his stay-at-home order to Britons to halt the spread of coronavirus, by imposing curbs on everyday life without precedent in peacetime.
The tougher tone followed evidence at the weekend that many were ignoring official guidelines about social distancing as they flocked to parks and beauty spots.
Now, all but essential shops will close and people should no longer meet family or friends or risk being fined, Johnson said on Monday in a televised address to the nation.
Johnson had resisted pressure to impose a full lockdown even as other European countries had done so, but was forced to change tack as projections showed the health system could become overwhelmed.
(Watch the British Prime Minister’s broadcast:
PM @BorisJohnson gives an important update on #coronavirus #StayHomeSaveLives pic.twitter.com/MQo2EVVDcD
— UK Prime Minister (@10DowningStreet) March 23, 2020
Deaths from the virus in Britain jumped 54 to 335 on Monday as the government said the military would help ship millions of items of personal protective equipment (PPE) including masks to healthcare workers who have complained of shortages.
“From this evening I must give the British people a very simple instruction – you must stay at home,” Johnson said in a televised address, replacing his daily news conference.
They would only be allowed to leave their homes to shop for basic necessities, exercise, for a medical need, to provide care or travelling to and from work where absolutely necessary.
“That’s all – these are the only reasons you should leave your home,” he said, adding that people should not meet friends or family members who do not live in their home.
“If you don’t follow the rules, the police will have the powers to enforce them, including through fines and dispersing gatherings,” he warned.
The new measures would be reviewed in three weeks, and relaxed if possible.
The British Retail Consortium said shop owners understood the gravity of the situation, while former health secretary Jeremy Hunt said Johnson’s decisions were “absolutely right”.
The government will close all shops selling non-essential goods, Johnson said, including clothing stores, as well as other premises including libraries, playgrounds and outdoor gyms, and places of worship.
Under the new measures, the government will stop all gatherings of more than two people in public who do not live together, and stop all social events, including weddings and baptisms but not funerals.
Parks would remain open for exercise but gatherings would be dispersed, Johnson said.
House of Commons
Later on Monday, Britain’s lower house of parliament is expected to approve emergency legislation giving authorities sweeping powers to tackle the outbreak, including the right to detain people and put them in isolation to protect public health.
“Without a huge national effort to halt the growth of this virus, there will come a moment when no health service in the world could possibly cope; because there won’t be enough ventilators, enough intensive care beds, enough doctors and nurses,” Johnson said in his address.