LOCKDOWN measures set out by the British government are rules, not advice, and will be enforced, health minister Matt Hancock said on Tuesday (24).
On Monday (23), in a rare TV address to the nation, prime minister Boris Johnson said Britons would only be allowed out to shop for basic necessities, exercise, for a medical need, to provide care or to travel to work where absolutely necessary.
“These measures are not advice, they are rules and will be enforced, including by the police,” Hancock told parliament.
The heath secretary’s comments come as community leaders warned that Asians were at a higher risk of becoming infected with the Covid-19 virus.
Dr Bharat Pankhania, senior consultant in Communicable Disease Control and a senior clinical lecturer at the University of Exeter, said Asian elders could be at risk since they were more likely to be living in joint families.
“While this has not been proven scientifically, it is an entirely plausible outcome because (Asian elders) live in more human traffic,” he told Eastern Eye on Monday. “You can therefore expect a greater chance of picking up the infection.”
Figures from the Resolution Foundation show that 80 per cent of the south Asian British population live with younger people in the household.
The foundation’s research and policy analyst, Fahmida Rahman, said the government’s response to coronavirus took no account of the way that non-white families are structured and “actually risked the lives of elderly people in (Asian) communities who live in multigenerational families”.
The Runnymede Trust deputy director Dr Zubaida Haque also expressed concerns about the government’s directives.
“How will (self-isolation) work for elderly people who live with other family members?” she said. “In thousands of homes across the country, there are not only three generations of family members in the same household, but also less space – including in poorer households where grandparents are also helping out with childcare.”
NHS officials have previously warned that Muslim families could likely be more susceptible to picking up the virus due to their social habits, such as eating and praying together.
One of the earliest confirmed coronavirus related deaths in the UK was a British Bangladeshi who died earlier this month. He had apparently returned from Italy at the end of February and was admitted to hospital on March 3.
His son was quoted as saying: “After my father was admitted to the hospital, we were also quarantined at home. We regularly received information from the hospital over the phone, though we were not allowed to talk directly with my father.”
“We never heard of anything like the coronavirus only two months ago, but it has taken away my father,” he added.
Meanwhile, all but essential shops were told to close immediately on Monday following Johnson’s address, in which the prime minister urged people to no longer meet family or friends in order to slow the spread of the virus.
Johnson had previously resisted pressure to impose a full lockdown as other European countries had done, but was forced to change tack as projections showed the health system could become overwhelmed.
“From this evening I must give the British people a very simple instruction – you must stay at home,” Johnson said.
Under the new rules, Britons would only be allowed to leave their homes to shop for basic necessities, exercise, for a medical need, to provide care or travelling to and from work where absolutely necessary. Gatherings of more than two people in public who do not live together were banned.
The government’s restrictions also said that people should only travel to work when it was “absolutely necessary”.
“These are the only reasons you should leave your home,” Johnson said, adding that people should not meet friends or family members who did not live in the same home. “If you don’t follow the rules, the police will have the powers to enforce them. This includes through fines and dispersing gatherings.”
The new measures would be reviewed in three weeks, and relaxed if possible, he added.
Those who flout the government’s instructions to stay at home face on-the-spot fines of £30 which could rise significantly if needed, the prime minister’s spokesman said on Tuesday.
“Regulations will be made as soon as possible and by Thursday at the latest to allow the police to issue fines to those who refuse to comply,” he added, saying that police would “take whatever steps they consider appropriate to disperse groups of people who are flouting the rules”.
“These rules are not optional,” London mayor Sadiq Khan said, following the announcement.
However, there was confusion about some of the measures announced on Monday.
The chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, appeared on radio and TV shows on Tuesday to say people “wherever possible” should stay at home to try to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed. Gove also clarified the advice he gave on air about whether children of separated parents could move from one household to the other, initially saying it should stop but then saying it was allowed.
Major construction work could also continue, he said, but work in homes involving “intimate contact” with the householder would not be appropriate, Gove said, adding that the rules were “clear”.
Peter Fahy, the former head of police in Manchester, said clarification was needed, particularly on how to enforce a new rule banning gatherings of more than two people. “Our police officers are already very stretched,” he said.
“It will require a huge amount of public support, public acceptance and public compliance.”
Since the announcement, supermarkets have started limiting the number of customers in stores at any one time to enforce social distancing during the coronavirus outbreak (See page 13).
A YouGov poll on Tuesday found that 93 per cent of Britons supported the measures but were split on whether fines would be a sufficient deterrent. The survey found 66 per cent thought the rules would be very easy or fairly easy to follow.