BORIS JOHNSON told the British people on Tuesday (22) to work from home where possible and ordered restaurants and bars to close early to tackle a swelling second coronavirus wave.
“This is the moment we must act,” the prime minister said, noting the new measures — which could last up to six months — would be bolstered by greater infringement penalties, a boosted police presence and military back-up.
“If all our actions fail to bring the ‘R’ (virus reproduction rate) below one, then we reserve the right to deploy greater firepower with significantly greater restrictions.”
Just weeks after urging people to start returning to workplaces, Johnson advised “office workers who can work effectively from home should do so over the winter”.
He ordered all pubs, bars, restaurants and other hospitality sites to close at 10 pm from Thursday, with only table service allowed.
Schools and universities will stay open, the prime minister noted.
In a prime-time televised address to the nation, the prime minister said the winter would be hard, adding that his strategy would keep the economy moving while containing Covid-19 contagion.
“We must take action now… This way we can keep people in work, we can keep our shops and our schools open, and we can keep our country moving forward while we work together to suppress the virus,” he said.
Masks will be required in more settings, there will be tougher enforcement of rules, and the military could be brought in to help free up the police, Johnson said.
“To those who say we don’t need this stuff, and we should leave people to take their own risks, I say these risks are not our own,” the prime minister stressed.
“The tragic reality of having Covid is that your mild cough can be someone else’s death knell.”
Johnson added that he was “deeply, spiritually reluctant to make any of these impositions, or infringe anyone’s freedom”.
“But unless we take action, the risk is that we will have to go for tougher measures later, when the deaths have already mounted and we have a huge caseload of infection such as we had in the spring,” he noted.
It, however, remained unclear if the measures announced would be enough to curb the second wave, which government scientists warned could reach 50,000 new cases per day by mid-October.
Scotland will introduce additional nationwide restrictions on household gatherings that go further than Johnson’s new rules for England, its First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said.
Limits on visiting other people’s homes are already in force in Wales and Northern Ireland, while millions of people in all four parts of the UK are under so-called local lockdowns.
A poll by YouGov of 3,436 British adults found that 78 per cent supported the measures, although 45 per cent said Johnson should have gone further. About 32 per cent said he had got the restrictions about right.
Businesses breaking Covid laws face penalties of up to £10,000 or even closure, while individuals may be fined £200 for not wearing a mask when required.
Johnson said it was frustrating for the law-abiding majority to see a few “brazenly defying the rules”.
Asked in parliament why Britain’s figures were worse than Germany and Italy, Johnson said: “There is an important difference between our country and many other countries around the world and that is our country is a freedom-loving country… It is very difficult to ask the British population uniformly to obey guidelines in the way that is necessary.”
In the televised address, he said that there had been too many rule breaches, and that even those who were willing to take chances with the virus would be endangering others.
Johnson hammered home the message in a televised evening address to the nation, calling for a collective effort to “get through this winter together”.
“Never in our history has our collective destiny and our collective health depended so completely on our individual behaviour,” he said.
The UK already has the highest official Covid-19 death toll in Europe- – 41,825 — while it is borrowing record amounts to pump emergency money through the damaged economy.
Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey warned that the “very unfortunate” escalation of Covid-19 cases threatened the economic outlook and said the central bank was looking hard at how it could support the economy further.
Opposition leader Keir Starmer urged the government not to end a furlough scheme at the end of October, accusing it of losing control of the coronavirus crisis.
Incidentally, Leisure group Whitbread and pub chain Wetherspoons both announced widespread job cuts on Tuesday, while the British Beer and Pub Association said less than half of pubs were breaking even.