As new deaths and cases of coronavirus emerge, the UK woke up on Tuesday to a nation-wide lockdown after Prime Minister Boris Johnson, alarmed at people not taking social distancing seriously, announced new curbs, allowing people to leave homes for only four specified reasons.
Declaring the situation created by the coronavirus pandemic as a ‘national emergency’, Johnson said the police will have powers to enforce the curbs described as ‘the toughest in living memory’; they are similar to those introduced recently in France and other European countries.
Coronavirus-related deaths and cases in the UK continued to mount: 335 deaths and 6,650 cases as on Monday afternoon, with London recording 2,433 of them. Health officials are expecting and gearing up for an Italy-like spike in the near future.
Setting out the curbs to last three weeks, Johnson said in a TV address on Monday: “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”, he said, imposing restrictions the likes of which the UK with a long history of struggles for liberty, freedom of movement and civil rights has never seen.
However, the challenge to enforce social distancing remained. On Tuesday, commuters posted images of crowds on London Underground, and police officials pondered whether they have enough personnel and powers to ensure that social distancing is obeyed.
Besides the closure of pubs, restaurants and theatres announced last week, Johnson said authorities will also close shops selling non-essential goods, including clothing and electronic stores and other premises including libraries, playgrounds and outdoor gyms, and places of worship.
Johnson said: “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 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”.
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