Coronavirus: Prime Minister threatens curfew and travel ban

23 March 2020, 06:15

The PM was speaking at a daily Downing Street press conference
The PM was speaking at a daily Downing Street press conference. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

The Prime Minister is under increasing pressure to impose a widespread lockdown after many ignored his calls for "social distancing" to halt the spread of Covid-19.

Boris Johnson yesterday said his Government was considering tougher restrictions should official requests for Brits to stay at home amid the coronavirus pandemic be ignored.

His words came as thousands of people took advantage of the good weather over the weekend to flock to parks, beaches and markets over the weekend.

Conservative former Cabinet minister Julian Smith said he would support "any measure" the Government brought forward to force people to comply with the guidance.

Read more: Coronavirus symptoms - What are they and what is the risk of Covid-19 in the UK?

For Labour, shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said ministers should be making "immediate preparations" for the "next stage" while learning from other European nations.

The calls came as an 18-year-old was thought to have become the youngest victim of the virus in Britain as the number of deaths in the UK rose to 281.

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The PM is coming under increasing pressure to use the police to enforce official guidance for people to avoid all social contact, across Europe countries have imposed stricter measures.

Mr Johnson is also facing pressure from within his own cabinet and group of senior advisers to impose a full lockdown in London, which a senior government source told The Times was inevitable.

Read more: Who is a key worker and what children are classed as vulnerable in UK school closures?

“The Prime Minister will have the full support of the cabinet and the country at large if he goes ahead with this,” the source told the newspaper. “It is inevitable, you just have to look at other countries. The sooner you do it the better. The difficulty the government is facing is that the spread of this virus is exponential. We won’t know if what we’re doing is the right thing until it is too late.”

The Italian government was one of a number of European countries to announce new or extended restrictions - with Germany banning public gatherings of more than two people not from the same household.

Read more: Coronavirus and pregnant women: What is the official government advice?

Shocked social media users posted pictures over the weekend of large gatherings of people in parks and beauty spots across the country.

The PM expressed his concern for people ignoring the official guidance at the daily coronavirus press conference. He said: “I say as firmly and strongly as I can to everybody that going outside now, taking exercise, enjoying yourself — you’ve got to observe social distancing. If people can’t do that, won’t do that, don’t do that, we will, of course, have to bring in tougher measures.”

When asked by reporters what that could mean, he said that “curfews and prohibitions on movement” would be introduced at the right time. He pointed to countries such as France, where people need permission to leave the house and can only exercise within 2km of homes.

Read more: Coronavirus - Who should self-isolate and for how long?

“I don’t think you need to use your imagination very much to see where we might have to go, and we will think about this very, very actively in the next 24 hours,” he said.

Mr Johnson warned that the NHS could be "overwhelmed" in the same way as the Italian healthcare system has been if the spread of the virus in the UK is not curbed.

The Government later issued updated guidance making clear that essential travel did not include visits to "second homes, camp sites, caravan parks or similar, whether for isolation purposes or holidays".

While people were heading to open spaces, there were signs that city and town centres were closing down with McDonald's, John Lewis, Primark and Timpson among the high street chains to announce they were closing their doors.

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Meanwhile letters are going out to 1.5 million people with underlying health conditions who are considered to be the most vulnerable to the coronavirus telling them to stay at home for the next 12 weeks.

The Government said it would ensure those without families and friends to support them would continue to receive food and medicines, with the military helping to organise deliveries.

Schools across the country will be opening their gates only to the children of key workers considered essential to the running of the country, with apparent confusion over how many will be admitted.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson appealed to parents to keep their children at home unless their job is "critical" in the response to the coronavirus.

"This will help to halt the spread of the virus, protect the NHS and save lives," he said.

"We will be closely monitoring what is happening in schools and will ensure they get the support they need in the weeks and months ahead."