(LONDON) — U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced unprecedented new restrictions to British life in an address to the nation Monday night, as he declared the coronavirus outbreak a “moment of national emergency.”
Johnson declared that the new measures were necessary to “protect the NHS’s [National Health Service’s] ability to cope – and save more lives,” as he announced that across the U.K. the public could only leave the house for one form of daily exercise and essential shopping, while gatherings of more than two people have been banned. All shops selling non-essential goods, churches, playgrounds and libraries were also shuttered.
The prime minister said the police would have new powers to enforce the rules, which are set to be imposed for at least three weeks. At the end of that period, they will be subject to a governmental review.
“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 the televised address. “From this evening I must give the British people a very simple instruction – you must stay at home.”
As of Monday morning, a total of 6,650 people had tested positive for the coronavirus in the U.K., with 335 deaths, according to the Department of Health and Social Care.
Despite the announcement, busy carriages were still seen on the London tube network Tuesday morning, as under the new measures the public will still be allowed to travel to and from work, “but only where this absolutely cannot be done from home.”
The new measures mark a dramatic escalation in policy after the U.K. only ordered the closure of pubs, bars, restaurants and schools nationwide on Friday evening.
On Sunday, the government introduced “special steps” to shield the vulnerable from the crisis, with an estimated 1.5 million people set to be contacted by the National Health Service to be told they must stay at home for the next 12 weeks. The U.K. Foreign Office has issued advice to all British people travelling abroad to return home now, if commercial flights are still available.
The new restrictions will be enforced by the police, Johnson said, and fines could be issued for those who ignore the new restrictions. A proposed law is set to be voted through Parliament this week that would grant lawmakers sweeping new powers to deal with the threat posed by the virus.
The government has said the new powers will “only be used when strictly necessary.”
The virtual lockdown on British life means that the U.K. has now followed the measures in place in other major European countries such as Spain, Germany and the country where the coronavirus has so far taken the deadliest toll, Italy.
The United States has so far resisted a similar lockdown nationwide, as the latest figures show that number of confirmed positive cases rose to 46,450 and 593 recorded deaths Tuesday.
Globally there have been at least 380,000 confirmed cases, over 16,000 deaths, and just over 100,000 of those who have tested positive have recovered, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
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