Boris Johnson has insisted there is “no prospect” of grinding the capital’s public transport to a halt or telling Londoners they cannot go to work amid fears a lockdown is going to be imposed.
The Prime Minister said there is evidence that Londoners are heeding the advice on social distancing but did not rule out ministers taking more drastic action if necessary.
Mr Johnson was acting to allay fears in the capital on Thursday after a day earlier he said nothing had been ruled out when asked if the city was going to be shut down.
The disease’s spread and the death toll it brings are at their most aggressive in London, with experts saying it is weeks ahead than other regions in terms of Covid-19’s progress.
The PM acknowledged there had been some “misunderstanding” over his plans but ruled out enforcing some draconian measures.
“There is no prospect of us wanting to stop public transport in London or stop the Tube or the buses,” he told his daily coronavirus press conference.
He added that ministers are “not going to be telling people that under no circumstances” can they go to work “if they really need to”.
“We are going to want people to avoid gatherings where they can transmit the disease, we’re absolutely emphatic to do that. If it becomes necessary to do more to ensure that, we will certainly do so,” he added.
Evidence that social distancing is working in London comes from the retail and hospitality sector as well as Transport for London (TfL), the PM said.
But in some areas, he added, there is evidence to suggest abidance to the advice is “very patchy”, with some still socialising in bars and restaurants.
The PM’s official spokesman also said there was “zero prospect” of restrictions being placed on people travelling in or out of London.
So far, around four in 10 coronavirus-related deaths in the UK have been in London, according to calculations by the PA news agency.
Of the 137 deaths in the UK, 56 have been recorded by hospitals or NHS trusts based in the capital.
TfL has already said up to 40 London Underground stations that do not interchange with other lines could be closed, but said transport must continue to support key workers.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan and the PM met on Thursday for talks described as positive and businesslike, with both recognising the massive scale of the crisis they were facing.
Mr Khan suggested further restrictions could be imposed on Londoners as he pleaded with them to follow the advice.
In a direct message to the capital’s residents, he said: “I can’t say this clearly enough: people should not be travelling by any means unless they absolutely must.
“The scientific advice on this is very clear: Londoners should be avoiding social interaction unless absolutely necessary and this includes avoiding using the transport network.”
Senior officials in Government insisted that the kind of measures banning travel which have been imposed in France and Italy would not be coming to the UK.
“There is not going to be any point where there are border guards stood around London saying ‘you can’t come in or out’,” a source said.
“That’s not the sort of country we are.”