Boris Johnson has placed the UK on lockdown to tackle the coronavirus, threatening police fines for anyone who ignores new measures including a ban on public gatherings of more than two people.
The Prime Minister detailed a short list of reasons why individuals can leave their homes as he ordered the immediate closure of all shops selling non-essentials items on Monday evening.
He ordered people to only leave the house to shop for basic necessities “as infrequently as possible” and to perform one form of exercise a day.
Or they could seek medical help, provide care to a vulnerable person or travel to work if “absolutely necessary”, he said in a televised address from within Downing Street.
“That’s all – these are the only reasons you should leave your home,” he said.
“You should not be meeting friends. If your friends ask you to meet, you should say No. You should not be meeting family members who do not live in your home.
“If you don’t follow the rules the police will have the powers to enforce them, including through fines and dispersing gatherings.”
To ensure people follow the rules, Mr Johnson ordered the immediate closure of non-essential stores including those selling electronics and clothing.
All public gatherings of more than two people – other than those they live with – will be barred, the PM said.
Other premises being shuttered are libraries, playgrounds, outdoor gyms and places of worship.
And, while parks will remain open for exercise, all social events including weddings and baptisms will be stopped. Funerals, however, can continue.
Hotels and campsites will now join pubs, cafes and restaurants in being closed to slow the disease’s spread.
Government officials said fines will start at £30, but warned they would escalate.
Mr Johnson said the measures will be “under constant review” and will be considered for relaxation in three weeks’ time if the evidence allows.
He said that “no prime minister wants to enact measures like this” as he reminded the public of the support programme to aid ailing businesses and struggling individuals.
But he said the drastic new measures allowing people to only leave home for the “very limited purposes” were necessary to slow the spread of the disease.
“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 added.
Mr Johnson had been facing widespread calls to impose tough restrictions on the nation amid concerns people are ignoring social distancing advice.
His call came after the UK death toll hit 335 and British citizens travelling abroad were told to return home “while you still can”.
Online supermarkets immediately appeared to buckle under the strain after the announcement with crashes occurring on the Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda websites.
Politicians across the spectrum, including those who had been highly-critical of the PM’s response so far, welcomed the tough new measures.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said it was the “right response”, but called for clearer guidance.
“There now needs to be clear guidance to employers and workers about which workplaces should close – and 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.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the measures that “amount to a lockdown” were “essential for the protection of all of us”.
Ken Marsh, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, which represents officers in the capital, warned enforcement will be “very, very challenging” with “large amounts of sickness” already seen in the force.
“We will be dealing with it, but I’m not sure we will have the resources to be able to see it through,” he told Sky News.
Forty-six more people died in England alongside four in Scotland and four in Wales, taking the number who have died in British hospitals after testing positive to 335. Those who have died in England range in age from 18 to 105.
In an earlier escalation of advice, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told citizens travelling overseas to return to the UK using commercial routes that are still running.
“If you are on holiday abroad the time to come home is now while you still can,” he said.
Foreign Office staff were working to help citizens get back where routes have been halted due to the growing crisis.
UPDATE: We advise British people travelling abroad to return to the UK now, if commercial flights are still available.
— Foreign Office 🇬🇧 (@foreignoffice) March 23, 2020
Meanwhile, emergency legislation to tackle outbreak cleared the House of Commons when MPs chose not to oppose the third reading of the Coronavirus Bill.
Over the weekend, crowds of people were witnessed visiting open spaces across many parts of the UK, at times flouting official social distancing advice.