Boris Johnson has outlined strict new measures to tackle the spread of coronavirus, including a ban on public gatherings of more than two people.
In a televised statement on Monday, the prime minister ordered people only to leave their homes under a list of “very limited purposes”.
He also ordered the immediate closure of shops selling non-essential goods.
But police chiefs warned of phone lines being inundated with calls about what movements are still permitted.
Speaking from Downing Street on Monday evening, Mr Johnson said the country faced a “moment of national emergency” and staying at home was necessary to protect the NHS, save lives and tackle “the biggest threat this country has faced for decades”.
He said people may only leave home to exercise once a day, to travel to and from work where “absolutely necessary”, to shop for essential items, and to fulfil any medical or care needs.
The restrictions would be in place for at least three weeks and would be kept under constant review, the prime minister said.
“To put it simply, if too many people become seriously unwell at one time, the NHS will be unable to handle it – meaning more people are likely to die, not just from coronavirus but from other illnesses as well,” he said.
The prime minister’s spokesman said many ministers would dial into Tuesday’s cabinet meeting remotely, to comply with social distancing measures.
The new measures came amid fears people were disregarding the government’s social distancing advice.
At the weekend, crowds of people were seen at beaches, parks, markets and other public spaces.
The new guidance says people should only leave their homes for one of four reasons:
- Shopping for basic necessities such as food and medicine. Shopping trips should be as infrequent as possible
- One form of exercise a day such as a run, walk, or cycle. This should be done alone or only with people you live with
- Any medical need, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person. This includes moving children under the age of 18 between their parents’ homes, where applicable. Key workers or those with children identified as vulnerable can continue to take their children to school
- Travelling to and from work, but only where work absolutely cannot be done from home
Even when following the above guidance, people should minimise the amount of time spent out of their homes and should keep two metres (6ft) away from people they do not live with.
The government is also stopping all social events, including weddings, baptisms and other ceremonies – but funerals attended by immediate family members are allowed.
Businesses that will not need to close include supermarkets, petrol stations, post officers and banks.
But premises such as libraries, non-essential shops, playgrounds, outdoor gyms and places of worship have been ordered to close.
Hotels, hostels, campsites and caravan parks must also close unless key workers need to stay there, or if other people staying there cannot return to their primary residence.
Parks will remain open for exercise but people are not allowed to gather in groups.
While community centres can stay open but only for the purpose of “hosting essential voluntary or public services” such as food banks or service for homeless people, the guidance says.
Police will have powers to enforce the new rules, including through fines and dispersing gatherings, the prime minister said.
As of Monday, some 335 people have died with the virus in the UK.
Some 83,945 people in the UK have been tested for coronavirus with 6,650 testing positive. However, the true number of cases will be far higher as tests are mostly done only on people who are hospitalised with symptoms of the virus.
It seems hard to overstate how huge an impact this will have on the country, and what a massive decision this is for the government to have taken – whose effect will last at least for a period of three weeks at the shortest, potentially for very much longer.
Remember this though is not quite the kind of total crackdown we have seen in other countries – at least not yet.
Not surprisingly, there is already therefore enormous controversy about whether the UK has been acting fast enough.
But there were calls for more information about the guidance after the prime minister scrapped his daily press conference on Monday to announce the measures in a statement.
Lincolnshire Police warned of an “extremely high volume” of calls and Humberside Chief Constable Lee Freeman said his force had received “a number of calls” on the subject, which he said he was unable to answer.
Ken Marsh, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, said enforcing the new restrictions would be “a real, real challenge”, with there already being “large amounts of sickness” among officers across London.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said in a tweet that the next few weeks would be “testing” for police but that she would make sure officers had “the resources they need to keep themselves and the public safe”.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the measures were “the right response”.
But he called on the government to provide clear guidance to employers and workers about which workplaces should close.
“The government must close the loopholes to give security to all workers, including the self-employed, as well as renters and mortgage holders,” he said.
The prime minister said he knew the “damage” the restrictions were causing to people’s lives, businesses and jobs – and said “many lives will sadly be lost” despite the measures.
But he added there was “a clear way through”, by strengthening the NHS with former clinicians returning to work, accelerating the search for treatments and a vaccine and buying millions of testing kits.
In other key developments:
- Sports Direct has said it will keep its stores open, in spite of the new government measures
- Emergency legislation introducing measures to respond to the virus will go before the House of Lords later after it passed through the Commons on Monday evening
- Carmakers are answering calls from governments to help make more ventilators and face masks to help tackle the pandemic
- The number of worldwide cases has reached 350,000, with nearly 15,000 deaths. The World Health Organization warns the pandemic is “accelerating”
- And an International Olympic Committee member says Tokyo 2020 will be postponed until 2021 – although an official announcement is yet to be made