British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will tell people on Tuesday to work from home where possible and will curb timings for bars and restaurants to tackle a fast-spreading second coronavirus wave, but the opposition accused him of losing control.
With millions across the United Kingdom already under some form of COVID-19 restriction, Johnson will tighten measures in England while stopping short of another full lockdown like he imposed in March, according to his office and ministers.
Johnson will hold emergency meetings with ministers, address parliament at 1130 GMT and then speak to the nation at 1900 GMT after government scientists warned that the death rate would soar without urgent action.
Just weeks after urging people to start returning to workplaces, Johnson will now advise them to stay at home if they can, according to his office and ministers. He will also order all pubs, bars, restaurants and other hospitality sites across England to start closing at 10 p.m. from Thursday.
“There is going to be a shift in emphasis. If it is possible for people to work from home, we are going to encourage them to do so,” Michael Gove, the minister for the cabinet office, told Sky News.
The new curbs will restrict the hospitality sector to table service only, though Gove said he wanted those who could not work from home – for example in manufacturing, construction and retail – to continue to work from COVID-secure workplaces.
Schools will also stay open, he said.
It was unclear if the measures would be enough to tackle Britain’s second wave, which government scientists warned could reach 50,000 new cases per day by mid-October.
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Opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer lambasted Johnson’s leadership, especially over failings in testing. “Instead of getting a grip, the government has lost control … Our testing system collapsed just when we needed it most,” he said.
The United Kingdom already has the biggest official COVID-19 death toll in Europe – and the fifth largest in the world – 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 400-450 jobs at sites at six airports, including London’s Heathrow and Gatwick, because of the large drop in passengers.
Britain will face an exponentially growing death rate from COVID-19 unless the government moves urgently, Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical officer, and Patrick Vallance, its chief scientific adviser, said.
The United Kingdom already has the biggest official COVID-19 death toll in Europe – and the fifth largest in the world – while it is borrowing record amounts in an attempt to pump emergency money through the damaged economy.
Gove, one of Johnson’s most senior ministers, said there were many roles that could not be performed at home, in areas from manufacturing and construction to retail.
“We need to balance, obviously, the need to ensure that people can continue to work, and indeed – critically – continue to go to school and benefit from education, against taking steps to try to reduce the virus, which is why if we can limit, or appropriately restrain, social contact, that is what we are trying to do,” he said.
“The second shutdown begins,” read the front-page headline of the Daily Telegraph while the Daily Mail said: “UK slammed into reverse.”
Shares in Britain’s listed pubs and restaurant groups fell sharply on Monday in anticipation of the move. While there is no consistent policy nationwide, the move will advance closing time by at least an hour for most areas.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he had agreed with local council leaders and public health experts on new COVID-19 restrictions to be put to central government, in an attempt to stem the outbreak in the capital.
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, Estelle Shirbon, David Milliken, Sarah Young and Michael Holden; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)