PM says government may consider move as No 10 criticised over mixed messages
The public must stop congregating in public or face new coronavirus enforcement measures within 24 hours, Boris Johnson has said, amid growing concern that his previous attempts to encourage social distancing were being ignored.
After a weekend of public alarm at pictures of groups spending time in parks, on beaches and at markets, the prime minister responded to mounting criticism of a mixed message from No 10 on Sunday with his most explicit warning yet that the UK could face an Italy-style lockdown.
But amid growing unease among his own supporters over Downing Street’s communications with the public, he again stopped short of taking tougher action, saying: “We will think about this very actively in the next 24 hours. If people can’t make use of parks and playgrounds responsibly, in a way that observes the 2-metre rule, then of course we’re going to have to look at further measures.”
In what appeared to be a warning that the draconian steps taken in Italy could be seen in the UK, he said: “We need to think about the kinds of measures that we’ve seen elsewhere, other countries that have been forced to bring in restrictions on people’s movements altogether.”
The prime minister’s press conference came only after some councils and organisations had moved independently to close public spaces in response to widespread concern over the number of people out in public over the sunny weekend.
It followed appeals for stronger steps from across the political spectrum, with London mayor Sadiq Khan and northern Ireland’s first minister Arlene Foster both endorsing stricter enforcement of the guidelines, and former northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith saying he would support any measure that would force people to follow the guidelines.
The shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, said too many Britons were “either confused by the government’s social distancing measures or choose to ignore them”.
Pressed on the issue during a daily briefing at which he announced no new measures, Johnson stressed that parks and other green spaces were vital for people’s mental and physical wellbeing, but also said the public should stay indoors wherever possible.
As the official number of people in the UK to die after testing positive for the Covid-19 virus rose by 48 to reach 281:
• Chains including McDonald’s, Waterstones, Primark and Patisserie Valerie said they would be closing their shops from Monday.
• School leaders urged parents to “only leave your child at school if you have no choice” before the first day of attendance being limited to key workers’ families.
• Doctors’ groups said hospitals were coming under such severe pressure that clinicians would soon be forced to decide which patients to treat.
• ITV said it would stop filming Coronation Street and Emmerdale as broadcasters continued to adjust to the crisis.
• An 18-year-old with an underlying condition became the youngest victim in the UK so far.