British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday laid out a new set of coronavirus restrictions, including tougher curfews and curbs on gatherings and a message for people to work from home, as the UK heads towards a second lockdown which could last six months.
Addressing the House of Commons, Johnson said the UK had reached a “perilous point” as the rate of infections is rising at an accelerating pace across the country. He, however, stressed that the latest set of measures, which widen the legal requirements for face coverings and set out earlier closing times for pubs, bars and restaurants, will help avoid a full national lockdown.
"We're acting on the principle that a stitch in time saves nine. I want to stress this is by no means a return to the full lockdown of March,” he told MPs.
“We will ensure that schools, colleges and universities stay open because nothing is more important than the health and wellbeing of our young people.
However, we must take action to suppress the disease," he said.
The latest set of measures call on all office workers to work from home, where they can do so. From Thursday, all pubs, bars and restaurants must operate at table service only, except for takeaways, and together with all hospitality venues they must close from 10 pm.
"That means alas closing and not just calling for last orders, because simplicity is paramount. I'm sorry this will affect many businesses just getting back on their feet but we must act,” said Johnson.
The requirement to wear face coverings, already a requirement in many enclosed public areas and on public transport, will be extended to include staff in retail, customers in taxis, and customers in indoor hospitality settings, except when seated at tables.
"In the retail, leisure and tourism and other sectors our COVID-secure guidelines will become legal obligations,” Johnson said.
Gathering rules for weddings will be cut from 30 to 15 and the “rule of six”, imposing a strict number on groups, is also to be extended to all adult team sports. This means a planned reopening of sporting events, conferences and exhibitions next month will be delayed.
Warning that "greater firepower, with significantly greater restrictions" might be deployed unless the latest set of restrictions are followed stringently, Johnson noted: "We will spare no effort in developing vaccines, treatments, new forms of mass testings. But unless we palpably make progress, we should assume that the restrictions I have announced will stay in place for six months.”
"This virus is a fact of our lives and I must tell this House and the country that our fight against it will continue," he added.
His speech came a day after the UK raised its COVID alert level from three to four, only one short of the highest level of five, meaning that transmission of the deadly virus is high or rising exponentially.
As of Monday, a further 4,368 daily cases and 11 deaths were reported in the UK, where the recorded coronavirus death toll stands at over 41,700.