Monday 23 March 2020 8:36 pm

Coronavirus: Prime Minister announces unprecedented lockdown across UK as government battles Covid-19

The Prime Minister has imposed unprecedented restrictions on people’s movements, which will be enforced through the police, in a desperate bid to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic. 

In a historic address to the nation, Boris Johnson revealed that people would only be allowed to leave their home for “very limited purposes” including shopping for basic necessities “as infrequently as possible”, medical needs, essential work needs and for “one form of exercise a day”. 

Read more: How many coronavirus cases are there in your London borough?

The government’s new lockdown policy includes shutting all shops “selling non-essential goods, including clothing and electronic stores”, the banning of gatherings of more than two people beyond those you already live with and stopping all social events including weddings and baptisms, although funerals are exempt.  Parks will remain open for exercise but gatherings will be dispersed.

In a pre-recorded address, Johnson 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. 

“You should not be going shopping except for essentials like food and medicine — and you should do this as little as you can. And use food delivery services where you can. 

“If you don’t follow the rules the police will have the powers to enforce them, including through fines and dispersing gatherings.”

Johnson, who has fought off calls to impose an Italy-style lockdown for many days, said the government would keep these restrictions “under constant review” and will look to relax them as early as three weeks “if the evidence shows we are able to”. 

He added: “No Prime Minister wants to enact measures like this. I know the damage that this disruption is doing and will do to people’s lives, to their businesses and to their jobs.

“And that’s why we have produced a huge and unprecedented programme of support both for workers and for business… But at present there are just no easy options. The way ahead is hard, and it is still true that many lives will sadly be lost. And yet it is also true that there is a clear way through.

“Each and every one of us is now obliged to join together to halt the spread of this disease, to protect our NHS and to save many many thousands of lives.”

The Prime Minister spoke just hours after authorities confirmed that the UK’s Covid-19 death toll had reached 335, an increase of 54 on Sunday morning.

The government announced at the weekend that 1.5m of the most at-risk people – with severe diseases including certain types of cancer and cystic fibrosis, as well as those recovering from organ donation – would need to stay at home for 12 weeks. Those individuals have already started to be contacted.  

Meanwhile in parliament, emergency legislation introducing measures to respond to the outbreak has cleared its first Commons hurdle with MPs giving it an unopposed second reading.

Earlier in the day, foreign secretary Dominic Raab – who has been named as Johnson’s “designated survivor” should the Prime Minister be laid low by the virus – has told Britons travelling abroad to the UK as soon as possible.

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