Boris Johnson announces Covid-19 curbs that could last up to six months

22 September 2020, 12:52 | Updated: 22 September 2020, 15:20

By Asher McShane

Boris Johnson has announced that a series of tough new coronavirus measures could stay in effect for the next six months.

Speaking in the Commons today, the Prime Minister announced a raft of measures that he said will need to stay in force for “perhaps six months” if needed.

Coronavirus LIVE: Boris Johnson announces tough new Covid-19 restrictions

Mr Johnson confirmed:

- People who can to work from home should do so but construction workers, retail staff and people performing essential services should continue to go to work

- From Thursday, pubs, bars and restaurants will be table service only and hospitality venues will be subject to a 10pm closing time.

- Face coverings will be required for retail staff, taxi passengers and hospitality customers except where seated.

- Covid-secure guidelines will become legal obligations for retail, leisure and tourism firms, with businesses facing fines or closure for failing to comply

- From Monday, a maximum of 15 people will be allowed at wedding ceremonies and receptions.

- The rule of six will be extended to cover indoor team sports, such as five-a-side football games.

- Plans to allow business conferences and sporting events from October 1 have been shelved.

The Prime Minister told MPs: "First, we are once again asking office workers who can work from home to do so. In key public services and in all professions where home working is not possible, such as construction or retail, people should continue to attend their workplaces."

He added: "Second, from Thursday, all pubs, bars and restaurants must operate a table service only, except for takeaways. Together with all hospitality venues, they must close at 10pm.

"And to help the police enforce this rule that means, alas, closing not just calling for last orders, because simplicity is paramount."

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"Third, we will extend the requirement to wear face coverings to include staff in retail, all users of taxis and private hire vehicles and staff and customers in indoor hospitality, except when seated at a table to eat or drink.

"Fourth, in retail, leisure and tourism and other sectors, our Covid-secure guidelines will become legal obligations."

He added: "Fifth, now is the time to tighten up the rule of six. I'm afraid that from Monday a maximum of 15 people will be able to attend wedding ceremonies and receptions, though up to 30 can still attend a funeral as now.

"We will also have to extend the rule of six to all adult indoor team sports."

Mr Johnson said that the restrictions announced could remain in place for "perhaps six months".

He told the Commons: "I fervently want to avoid taking this step, as do the devolved administrations but we will only be able to avoid it if our new measures work and our behaviour changes.

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"We will spare no effort in developing vaccines, treatments, new forms of mass-testing but unless we palpably make progress we should assume that the restrictions that I have announced will remain in place for perhaps six months.

"For the time being, this virus is a fact of our lives and I must tell the House and the country that our fight against it will continue."

Mr Johnson said the Government must "act now to avoid still graver consequences later on".

He said: "We always knew that while we might have driven the virus into retreat, the prospect of a second wave was real and I'm sorry to say that, as in Spain and France and many other countries, we've reached a perilous turning point."

The PM said a month ago an average of around 1,000 people across the UK were testing positive for Covid-19 every day, adding the latest figure has almost quadrupled to 3,929.

Mr Johnson said the Government will introduce new restrictions in England "carefully judged to achieve the maximum reduction in the R number with the minimum damage to lives and livelihoods".

He told MPs: "I want to stress that this is by no means a return to the full lockdown of March. We're not issuing a general instruction to stay at home.

"We will ensure that schools, colleges, universities stay open because nothing is more important than the education, health and well-being of our young people.

"We will ensure businesses can stay open in a Covid-compliant way. However we must take action to suppress the disease."

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said his party supported the Government's lates guidance, but said while they were "necessary" they were not "inevitable".

He said: "Just as we supported lockdown in March and the more recent local lockdowns, although with fierce criticism of the way the Government is handling this pandemic, when restrictions are needed the national interest lies in clear communications and cross-party support."

Sir Keir said families were worried that "the Government doesn't have a strategy".

He added: "One day people were encouraged to work in the office, in fact more than encouraged they were openly challenged by the Prime Minister for not doing so, today they're told the opposite.

"This is a time of national crisis but we need clear leadership."

The Labour leader called for the Government to work with Labour on a package of measures to replace the furlough scheme.

He said: "There's a big gap here and will he now accept that withdrawing the furlough scheme in one fell swoop would be a disaster and actually at complete odds with the measures he's just announced for possibly up to six months.

"And will he take us up on his offer to work with him and trade unions and businesses on a replacement scheme that protects jobs and businesses?"

Responding to the announcement, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “As the Prime Minister outlined today, we are at a perilous moment in the fight against this virus. Given the recent surge in cases and the Government’s failure to set up an adequate testing or contact tracing system we have no choice but to implement further measures to slow the spread of the virus. I firmly believe that acting early, rather than having to impose more stringent measures later, is the right thing to do both for public health and the economy.

“Throughout this pandemic I have urged Ministers to go further in encouraging the use of face coverings, so I am pleased they will be now be made compulsory in more public settings. It is also right that Londoners who can work from home do so.

“With the further restrictions on the opening hours of pubs, bars, restaurants and other venues, the need for extra financial support for these businesses has never been more urgent. It is essential that the Government now come forward within days with a targeted package of financial support for the retail, hospitality and cultural sectors who will be hit hardest by further restrictions, alongside an immediate targeted extension of the furlough scheme.

“I had a constructive telephone call with the Prime Minister this morning making clear that London has unique needs and challenges, and additional measures now need to be examined to protect both lives and livelihoods across the capital.

“Londoners have made monumental sacrifices during this pandemic and as I have further meetings with ministers and council leaders in the coming days I will continue to keep Londoners informed about the extra measures that may need to be implemented in the capital.”