British Prime Minister Boris Johnson slammed the brakes Tuesday on the country’s return to offices and a normal social life, saying the U.K. was at a “perilous turning point” in its fight against coronavirus.
Saying that Britain had to act now or face a huge second wave of the disease, Johnson announced a package of new restrictions, including requiring pubs, restaurants and other entertainment venues in England to close down between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., and urging people to work from home where possible.
“This is the moment when we must act,” he said, warning that the measures might have to remain in place for six months.
People will have to wear face-masks in taxis as well as on public transport. The size of gatherings is being curtailed, with weddings limited to 15 people instead of 30. A plan to bring spectators back to sports stadiums starting in October is being put on hold.
The British government is also increasing the penalties for breaking the rules.
The announcement comes a day after the British government’s top scientific and medical advisers said new coronavirus infections were doubling every seven days in the country and could rise to 49,000 a day by mid-October if nothing was done to stem the tide.
On Monday, the government reported 4,300 new confirmed cases, the highest number since May.
The U.K. has gradually been increasing restrictions as cases rise, including barring people from meeting in large groups. But the measures are less stringent than a nationwide lockdown imposed in March that confined most of the population and closed most businesses. Britain eased its lockdown starting in June as cases began to fall, but that trend has now been reversed.
Some lawmakers from the governing Conservative Party are uneasy about tightening restrictions on business and daily life, citing the impact on Britain’s already-reeling economy and the curbing of civil liberties.
Employers and workers in hospitality businesses are also concerned.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade body UKHospitality said before the announcement that the restrictions were “another crushing blow” for many businesses.
Michael Kill of the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) called the 10pm curfew “yet another devastating blow to the already beleaguered night-time economy, struggling to survive and in desperate need of sector-specific financial support from the Government. This curfew will lead to the demise of many of our most beloved cultural and entertainment venues.
Kill added, “Businesses in the night-time economy are both shocked and disappointed by the Government’s continued targeting of restrictions on late-night venues and bars, partially open at a fraction of their capacity, when they have admitted that the majority of transmission takes place in households. As a result of this measure, we foresee a surge of unregulated events and house parties which are the real hot beds of infection, attended by frustrated young people denied access to safe and legitimate night-time hospitality venues”
Polls suggest a majority of people in Britain support lockdown measures to contain the virus. But they also show that trust in the government’s handling of the pandemic has declined after troubles with testing, mixed messages on reopening and the U.K.’s high death toll.
Britain has the highest confirmed virus death toll in Europe, at 41,877 deaths, according to a tally by John Hopkins University that experts say undercounts the true toll of the pandemic due to limited testing and other factor.s