NEWS
24/03/2020 10:26 AM AEDT

Boris Johnson Orders 'National Emergency' Lockdown To Slow Coronavirus Outbreak

Police to issue fines for breaches. Move aims to stem death toll and prevent NHS from being overwhelmed.

Update: See the latest on the coronavirus outbreak here.

Boris Johnson has ordered the UK into a near-total lockdown in a bid to stem the number of deaths from the coronavirus outbreak.

In a televised address to the nation, the prime minister announced that the public will only be allowed to leave their home for:

  • shopping for basic necessities, as infrequently as possible
  • one form of exercise a day – for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household
  • any medical need, to provide care or to help a vulnerable person
  • travelling to and from work only where it is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home.

Police will issue fines and break up gatherings of those who flout the rules. The crackdown will be last for at least three weeks, with a review at that point.

To further curb the spread of the virus, Johnson ordered the closure of all shops selling non-essential goods,​ including clothing and electronic stores, libraries, playgrounds, outdoor gyms, and places of worship.

All gatherings of more than two people in public – excluding people you live with – will be banned.

All social events will be prohibited​, including weddings, baptisms and other ceremonies, but excluding funerals.

Parks will remain open for exercise but gatherings will be dispersed.

The dramatic new moves followed new figures showing the British death toll from the disease had jumped by 54 to 335, the second highest daily increase since the virus hit the country.

“You should not be meeting friends. If your friends ask you to meet, you should say ‘no’,” Johnson said. “You should not be meeting family members who do not live in your home.

“From this evening I must give the British people a very simple instruction - you must stay at home. Because the critical thing we must do is stop the disease spreading between households.

“No prime minister wants to enact measures like this. I know the damage that this disruption is doing and will do to people’s lives, to their businesses and to their jobs.”

But he added: “I urge you at this moment of national emergency to stay at home, protect our NHS and save lives.”

Johnson decided to act after growing criticism that he had failed to act quickly enough to prevent Covid-19 from overwhelming the NHS’s intensive care units.

Labour shifted its own position earlier, to demand harsher “compliance measures” amid fears that the UK was heading rapidly to the kind of death toll seen in Italy, where the number of people killed now exceeds that in China, the original source of the outbreak.

The PM had been reluctant to order a lockdown, citing the UK’s historic freedoms, but had warned on Sunday that he would take further steps if the public appeared not to be complying with requests to voluntarily distance themselves from each other.

A meeting of the government’s Cobra emergency committee approved the new crackdown just hours before Johnson’s televised statement.

Health secretary Matt Hancock had hit out at “selfish behaviour” of those who had failed to stick to guidance to stay two metres away from others in public places.

Images of crammed Tube trains in London, plus people apparently crowded in parks, beauty spots and markets, sparked fresh pressure to act more decisively.

Jeremy Corbyn welcomed the new moves, but demanded more clarity.

“This is the right response to the coronavirus pandemic, and one we have been calling for.

“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.”

Boris Johnson’s TV address in full:

Good evening,
The coronavirus is the biggest threat this country has faced for decades – and this country is not alone.
All over the world we are seeing the devastating impact of this invisible killer
And so tonight I want to update you on the latest steps we are taking to fight the disease and what you can do to help.
And I want to begin by reminding you why the UK has been taking the approach that we have.
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.
Because that is the way we reduce the number of people needing hospital treatment at any one time, so we can protect the NHS’s ability to cope – and save more lives.
And that’s why we have been asking people to stay at home during this pandemic.
And though huge numbers are complying – and I thank you all – the time has now come for us all to do more.
From this evening I must give the British people a very simple instruction – you must stay at home.
Because the critical thing we must do is stop the disease spreading between households.
That is why people will only be allowed to leave their home for the following very limited purposes:
shopping for basic necessities, as infrequently as possible
one form of exercise a day – for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household;
any medical need, to provide care or to help a vulnerable person; and
travelling to and from work, but only where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home.
That’s all - these are the only reasons you should leave your home.
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. And use food delivery services where you can.
If you don’t follow the rules the police will have the powers to enforce them, including through fines and dispersing gatherings.
To ensure compliance with the government’s instruction to stay at home, we will immediately:
close all shops selling non-essential goods,​ including clothing and electronic stores and other premises including libraries, playgrounds and outdoor gyms, and places of worship;
we will stop all gatherings of more than two people in public – excluding people you live with;
and we’ll stop all social events​, including weddings, baptisms and other ceremonies, but excluding funerals.
Parks will remain open for exercise but gatherings will be dispersed.
No prime minister wants to enact measures like this.
I know the damage that this disruption is doing and will do to people’s lives, to their businesses and to their jobs.
And that’s why we have produced a huge and unprecedented programme of support both for workers and for business.
And I can assure you that we will keep these restrictions under constant review. We will look again in three weeks, and relax them if the evidence shows we are able to.
But at present there are just no easy options. The way ahead is hard, and it is still true that many lives will sadly be lost.
And yet it is also true that there is a clear way through.
Day by day we are strengthening our amazing NHS with 7,500 former clinicians now coming back to the service.
With the time you buy – by simply staying at home – we are increasing our stocks of equipment.
We are accelerating our search for treatments.
We are pioneering work on a vaccine.
And we are buying millions of testing kits that will enable us to turn the tide on this invisible killer.
I want to thank everyone who is working flat out to beat the virus.
Everyone from the supermarket staff to the transport workers to the carers to the nurses and doctors on the frontline.
But in this fight we can be in no doubt that each and every one of us is directly enlisted.
Each and every one of us is now obliged to join together.
To halt the spread of this disease.
To protect our NHS and to save many many thousands of lives.
And I know that as they have in the past so many times.
The people of this country will rise to that challenge.
And we will come through it stronger than ever.
We will beat the coronavirus and we will beat it together.
And therefore I urge you at this moment of national emergency to stay at home, protect our NHS and save lives.
Thank you.