UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson braces Britain for draconian new lockdown restrictions

He said the government would be thinking 'very, very actively in the next 24 hours' over the need to take 'tougher measures'

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson gives his daily COVID 19 press briefing at Downing Street on 22 March 2020 in London (Photo: Getty)

Boris Johnson braced Britain for the prospect of draconian new restrictions to combat coronavirus – including closing parks, imposing curfews and restricting travel – because of widespread reports of people “heedlessly” gathering in open spaces and on beaches.

He said the government would be thinking “very, very actively in the next 24 hours” over the need to take “tougher measures” in response to the accelerating death toll from the infection.

The Prime Minister delivered the warning as the latest figures revealed that 281 people have died in the UK after testing positive Covid-19, an increase of 48 since the day before.

The deaths included patients aged 18 and 102 who are thought to be the youngest and oldest victims to date.

“The numbers are very stark, and they are accelerating. We are only a matter of weeks – two or three – behind Italy,” he said.

‘Shield’ the vulnerable

He also detailed plans to “shield” 1.5m of the most vulnerable people from the virus. The instruction for them to stay indoors for at least 12 weeks will do “more than any other” measure to save lives from Covid-19, the Prime Minister told his daily press conference.

People with the most serious health conditions, such as certain types of cancer, cystic fibrosis or chronic lung disease, and those who have recently had bone marrow or stem cell transplants, will receive a letter from the NHS in the coming days telling them they must stay at home and avoid face-to-face contact with others for three months.

Mr Johnson said the vast majority of Britons were behaving “incredibly responsibly” and following the guidance on social distancing, including standing two metres away from other people.

Italian-style lockdown

He insisted that he did not want to close down parks and playgrounds because of the benefits to physical and mental health, but said the government stood ready to order the kind of restrictions adopted by other countries if the guidance was widely flouted.

Asked if and when he might consider an Italian-style lockdown, he replied: “You’ve got to impose these interventions in the spread of the epidemic at the moment when they can have the maximum effect.

“After all, when the epidemic is hardly spreading at all that’s not the moment to impose curfews and prohibitions on movement and so on. You’ve got to wait until alas it’s the right moment to do it, and that’s always been how we’ve been guided.”

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His comments followed widespread reports of people continuing to congregate in shops, parks, outdoor markets, beauty spots and seaside resorts.

Under the plans to protect the most vulnerable, anyone they live with must undertake strict social distancing measures, including staying two metres apart from people when they go out for food. Carers can visit but must also undertake strict social distancing.

People who live on their own will receive special food and medicine parcels on their doorstep organised by councils and local hubs, the Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that 200,000 people in Scotland with extreme health vulnerabilities will be written to in the coming days with advice to isolate for 12 weeks and details of how they will be supported.

“The rest of us can reduce the risk of getting and passing on the infection by following all the advice,” she said.