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UK wakes up to life under lockdown after government tightens coronavirus restrictions

Key Points
  • British people will only be allowed to leave their home for the following very limited purposes, the prime minister said.
  • People can leave their homes only to shop for basic necessities, as infrequently as possible.
  • They are allowed one form of exercise a day - for example a run, walk, or cycle - alone or with members of their household.
Screen grab of Prime Minister Boris Johnson addresses the nation from 10 Downing Street, London, as he placed the UK on lockdown as the Government seeks to stop the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).
PA Video - PA Images

The U.K. government has tightened restrictions on the British public in a bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus in the country.

As of Tuesday morning, all nonessential public buildings and places are closed, ranging from libraries to churches, outdoor gyms and playgrounds, and all social events including weddings and baptisms have been stopped.

The public has been told to stay at home and can now only leave home for essential trips to buy food or medicines, to provide essential care, travel to work if absolutely necessary or to exercise once a day.

On Monday evening, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the nation in a televised address that "you must stay at home."

"Because the critical thing we must do is stop the disease spreading between households," Johnson added.

That is why people will only be allowed to leave their homes for the following very limited purposes, the prime minister said. These are:

  • 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.

Anyone not following the rules could be liable to a fine from the police, who now have the powers to enforce the measures and disperse gatherings, although it has been conceded that policing the measures will be difficult. 

The measures will be re-assessed in three weeks, Johnson said, and relaxed if the government can do so.

The stricter measures came after members of the U.K.'s parliament debated emergency legislation Monday designed to give the government greater powers to enforce measures designed to stop the coronavirus outbreak.

A pharmacy shows signs reminding us of social distancing on March 23, 2020 in London, England.
Julian Finney

There has been criticism of members of the public who have not heeded advice to stay at home and not gather. Good weather at the weekend prompted thousands of people to head to open spaces like national parks and beaches across the U.K., in many cases creating crowds that contravened government guidelines to maintain social distancing.

Johnson said Monday evening that "the coronavirus is the biggest threat this country has faced for decades – and this country is not alone." He added, "All over the world we are seeing the devastating impact of this invisible killer."

The number of confirmed global cases has now surpassed 350,000 and the death toll has risen above 15,000. In the U.K., as of Mar. 23, there are 6,650 confirmed coronavirus cases and 335 people have died from the virus, the U.K.'s Department of Health said.

The government is texting people across the U.K. to inform them of the new rules announced by the prime minister. The SMS message reads:

U.K. government message being sent to the British public

Scenes of people outdoors in groups prompted criticism from the government with Matt Hancock, the government's health secretary, calling out such behavior Monday.

"It's very selfish," he told the BBC Radio 4's Today program. "The NHS is doing everything it can and preparing for the spread of this virus.  If people go within two meters of others who they don't live with then they're helping to spread the virus - and the consequences of that costs lives and it means that, for everyone, this will go on for longer."

Many European countries have enforced stricter social distancing measures than those in the U.K.; Germany has banned groups of more than two people meeting and France and Italy have meted out fines to anyone outside their homes without good reason. 

Thought provoking message on the giant advertising boards at Piccadilly Circus almost deserted due to the Covid-19 outbreak and social distancing on what would normally be a busy, bustling day with hoards of people out to shop and socialise on 22nd March 2020 in London, England, United Kingdom.
Mike Kemp
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