A FULL lockdown of the UK was ordered by Boris Johnson last night in a dramatic escalation of efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus.
The prime minister told the nation to stay at home for at least three weeks — only venturing out for food shopping, ‘absolutely necessary work’, exercise once a day or medical needs.
He banned gatherings of more than two people — unless they live together — and said police would have powers to enforce the draconian new measures, including by issuing fines.
All shops selling non-essential items must close after the UK death rate from Covid-19 reached 335, up 54 in a single day. Libraries, playgrounds, outdoor gyms and places of worship have also been ordered to shut.
Mr Johnson said the measures were necessary to tackle what he described as ’the biggest threat this country has seen for decades’.
In a TV address, he thanked the ‘huge numbers’ of people who have been complying with the government’s advice to self-distance.
But he added: The time has now come for us all to do more. I must give the British people a very simple instruction — you must stay at home.’
Mr Johnson warned: ‘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.
‘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. I urge you at this moment of national emergency to stay at home, protect our NHS and save lives.’
Weddings are banned but funerals can still go ahead under the new rules.
The PM said the strict regime would be kept under ‘constant review’ and could be relaxed after three weeks.
A fifth of the world’s population — more than 1.5billion people — are now estimated to be bound by instructions to stay in their homes as part of global efforts to slow the virus’s spread.
Mr Johnson’s intervention came after more than 6,650 people tested positive here — amid fears that thousands have been failing to heed the official advice to avoid others.
The latest victims to lose their lives include 46 people in England aged from 47 to 105, all of whom suffered from underlying health conditions.
Meanwhile in Italy, where the virus has killed more than 5,000, there have been signs that the lockdown is starting to have an effect.
For the second day running the increase in confirmed infections was smaller than the day before — with 4,789 new cases compared with 5,560. The death rate also slowed, with 600 more reported, compared with 651 on Sunday and 793 on Saturday. There are fears Britain is on the same trajectory as Italy. And Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said last night Mr Johnson was right to impose tougher rules.
‘This is the right response to the coronavirus pandemic, and one we have been calling for,’ he said.
‘There now needs to be clear guidance to employers and workers about which workplaces should close.
‘And the government must close the loopholes to give security to all workers, including the self-employed, as well as renters and mortgage holders.
‘We welcome these moves and will work to ensure everybody has the protection and security they need.’
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, acknowledged that the new restrictions ‘amount to a lockdown’.
‘I am not going to sugercoat it in any way,’ she said. ‘Coronavirus is the biggest challenge of our lifetime.’
She added the new measures are ‘not done lightly’.
‘Stay at home,’ she said. ‘That is the message I gave yesterday and I am reinforcing that message now.’
Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt tweeted: ‘This is absolutely the right decision by @BorisJohnson.
‘It takes 2-3 weeks before these measures are likely to feed into the rate of new infections but at last we have hope the tide will now start to turn. Massively ramping up testing is the next vital step.’ Infection expert Dr Rupert Beale, of the Francis Crick Institute, said: ‘These measures are necessary to prevent thousands of deaths. I urge everyone to comply with them immediately.’
Mr Johnson scrapped his daily press conference to host an emergency Cobra committee meeting before making his dramatic announcement.
It came after cabinet ministers deflected criticism over the lack of a full lockdown by blaming members of the public for ignoring official advice.
When asked by Piers Morgan, host of ITV’s Good Morning Britain, why the UK had not gone further, the health secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘I share your frustration Piers and over the weekend I signed new laws to allow police to enforce the bans on pubs and clubs and restaurants.
‘And, as we have seen, the number of people not following advice is incredibly damaging to the effort to stop the spread of the virus.’
Labour’s Jon Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, was among critics who had urged the PM to implement the steps he has now taken.
He told parliament: ‘Other countries across the world have taken further far-reaching social distancing measures. We now call on the government to move to enforced social distancing and greater social protection as a matter of urgency.’
The Olympics, scheduled to take place in Japan in July and August, are to be postponed, according to reports.
‘Low-skilled’ immigrants are ‘key workers’, says MP
THE government is facing calls from one of its own MPs to review the planned points-based immigration system as many people it classes as ‘low-skilled’ are ‘key workers’.
Steve Double challenged home secretary Priti Patel in the Commons, saying: ‘One of the things that this current crisis is teaching us is that many people that we considered to be low-skilled are actually crucial to the smooth running of our country.’ Ms Patel said Mr Double had made a ‘very, very important point’.
Drag teenagers home to safety, parents told
PARENTS were told to ‘drag their teenagers home’ last night as young people continued to defy advice over social distancing to halt coronavirus.
Public areas and rail links were busy and a British Transport Police spokesman in Surrey said: ‘The amount of teenagers I’ve seen out and about today is unreal. They’ve been told to stay home for a reason. If you don’t know where yours is, find out, collect them and drag them home. It’s for their safety and ours.’