Britain imposes 6-month curbs against second wave

Boris Johnson: "We must take action now...This way we can keep people in work, we can keep our...
Boris Johnson: "We must take action now...This way we can keep people in work, we can keep our shops and our schools open, and we can keep our country moving forward". Photo: Reuters
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has told Britons to work from home where possible and ordered restaurants and bars to close early to tackle a fast-spreading second wave of Covid-19, with new restrictions lasting probably six months.

After scientific warnings that deaths could soar without urgent action, Johnson stopped short of imposing another full lockdown, as he did in March, but warned that further measures could come if the disease was not suppressed.

"We reserve the right to deploy greater firepower, with significantly greater restrictions," he told parliament following emergency meetings with ministers and leaders of the United Kingdom's devolved governments.

Just weeks after urging people to start returning to workplaces, Johnson advised office workers to stay at home if they could. He ordered all pubs, bars, restaurants and other hospitality sites to close at 10 p.m. from Thursday, with only table service allowed.

In a prime-time televised plea to citizens, Johnson said the winter would be hard but that his strategy would keep the economy moving while containing Covid-19 contagion.

"We must take action now...This way we can keep people in work, we can keep our shops and our schools open, and we can keep our country moving forward while we work together to suppress the virus," he said.

It was unclear if the measures would be enough to curb Britain's second wave, which government scientists warned could reach 50,000 new cases per day by mid-October.

Masks will be required in more settings, there will be tougher enforcement of rules, and the military could be brought in to help free up the police, Johnson said.

Schools and universities are to stay open.

A poll by YouGov of 3,436 British adults found that 78% supported the measures, although 45% said Johnson should have gone further while 32% said he had got the restrictions about right.

'BRAZEN' RULE-BREAKERS

Businesses breaking Covid laws face penalties of up to £10,000 ($NZ19,100) or even closure, while individuals may be fined 200 pounds for not wearing a mask when required.

Johnson said it was frustrating for the law-abiding majority to see a few "brazenly defying the rules".

Asked in parliament why Britain's figures were worse than Germany and Italy, Johnson said: "There is an important difference between our country and many other countries around the world and that is our country is a freedom-loving country...It is very difficult to ask the British population uniformly to obey guidelines in the way that is necessary."

In the televised address, he said that there had been too many rule breaches, and that even those who were willing to take chances with the virus would be endangering others.

"Never in our history has our collective destiny and our collective health depended so completely on our individual behaviour," he said.

The United Kingdom already has the highest official Covid-19 death toll in Europe - 41,825 - while it is borrowing record amounts to pump emergency money through the damaged economy.

Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey warned that the "very unfortunate" escalation of Covid-19 cases threatened the economic outlook and said the central bank was looking hard at how it could support the economy further.

Pub operator JD Wetherspoon said it could cut 400 to 450 jobs at sites at six airports, including London's Heathrow and Gatwick, because of the large drop in passengers.

Opposition leader Keir Starmer urged the government not to end a furlough scheme at the end of October, accusing it of losing control of the coronavirus crisis.

Scotland will introduce additional nationwide restrictions on household gatherings that go further than Johnson's new rules for England, its First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said.

LAST ORDERS FOR SOME PUBS?

Some pubs and restaurants already reeling from the pandemic face ruin, owners warned on Tuesday, after Johnson ordered them to close early for the next six months to help curb rapidly rising infections.

Some operators said the new restrictions, which include a ban on serving customers at the bar, could sound the death knell for businesses that were forced to shut for 15 weeks earlier this year.

"We may as well not open some of our bars," said Martin Wolstencroft, chief executive of Arc Inspirations, which runs 17 bars and restaurants in northern England. "After 10 o'clock is really when we start making money because that's when we get busier."

"This is going to be the final nail in the coffin for many, many operators," he told BBC radio.

As part of a package of new restrictions, Johnson said all hospitality venues must close at 10 p.m., a peak time for many.

The measures came after scientists warned that deaths from the disease could soar without urgent action. The number of new cases is rising fastest among those aged 20-29, although other, more vulnerable groups, are also at risk.

"I am sorry this will hurt many businesses just getting back on their feet, but we must act to stop the virus from being transmitted in bars and restaurants," he said.

Thomas Kidd, director of Adventure Bar Group which has nine outlets in London, said rules were changing too often.

"The constant moving feast makes it very difficult to know what we are planning for ... People don't mind fighting the fight today if they understand where we're working towards."

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