British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday has ordered people to stay at home to try to halt the further spread of coronavirus, closing alll but essential shops, and warning that those who do not follow the rules will face fines.
“From this evening, I must give the British people a very simple instruction: you must stay at home,” Johnson said in a pre-recorded televised address to the nation, replacing his usual daily news conference.
Almost 7,000 people have been infected with coronavirus so far in the country, home to about 66 million.
“That’s all – these are the only reasons you should leave your home,” Johnson said, adding that people should not meet friends or family members who do not live in their homes.
“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 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.
Advice to stay at home and avoid social gatherings went unheeded over the weekend by millions who took advantage of sunny weather to flock to parks and beauty spots, ignoring instructions to stay two metres (six feet) apart.
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.
“It brings the UK in line with measures seen in plenty of other countries around Europe,” said Al Jazeera’s Rory Challands. “For much of this crisis, the UK has been a step or two behind other countries. There were plenty of people in the UK saying, ‘Why can’t we see the same measures?’.”
Italy, now the global epicentre of the crisis with most coronavirus deaths and a quickly rising number of patients, is currently under complete lockdown.
Spain and France have similar measures in place to contain the spread of the infection.
“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.
Separately, an emergency bill giving authorities sweeping powers to tackle the outbreak, including the right to detain people and put them in isolation to protect public health, passed through the House of Commons.
The legislation will go before the House of Lords on Tuesday
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