Covid-19: UK announces nationwide lockdown
Gatherings of more than two people banned as PM says: 'Stay home'
Police given powers to issue fines, shut shops, disperse groups
The UK government imposed a lockdown on Monday, banning gatherings of more than two people and closing non-essential shops in its latest bid to fight the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
In a televised address from Downing Street, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said people would be only be allowed to leave their homes to shop for necessities such as food and medicine, travel to work when “absolutely necessary” and exercise once a day.
He warned police had been given powers to disperse groups, issue fines and shut down stores selling non-essential goods such as clothing and electronics.
Concerns about people ignoring warnings to stay indoors and avoid contact with others grew as thousands congregated in parks and markets during the sunny spring weekend. Johnson had been under pressure to go further after shutting pubs and restaurants on Friday.
Neighbouring European countries under more severe lockdowns had expressed incredulity at Johnson's unwillingness to take tougher measures. French President Emmanuel Macron reportedly threatened to close the border with Britain if Johnson failed to do so in order to contain the outbreak.
There was anger in London over the number of commuters crammed on to trains and tubes, with unions saying doctors and nurses were being put at risk by being jammed into public transport with non-essential workers.
“You should not be meeting friends. If your friends ask you to meet, you should say no. You should not be meeting family members who do not live in your home. You should not be going shopping except for essentials like food and medicine – and you should do this as little as you can,” Johnson said.
“If you don’t follow the rules, the police will have the powers to enforce them, including through fines and dispersing gatherings.”
Johnson said one form of exercise a day was permitted and parks would remain open for exercise. Libraries, playgrounds, outdoor gyms and places of worship would close. All social events, including weddings and baptisms were stopped, but funerals were exempted.
He added that the restrictions remained “under constant review” and would be checked again in three weeks and they would be relaxed “if the evidence shows we are able to”.
However, he warned of the burdens any attempt to flout the rules would place on an already hard-pressed National Health Service (NHS).
“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.
“And as we have seen elsewhere, in other countries that also have fantastic health care systems, that is the moment of real danger. 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. So it’s vital to slow the spread of the disease.”