This evening, Prime Minister Boris Johnson reluctantly placed strict new restrictions on life in the U.K. in order to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and reduce the strain on the U.K.’s National Health Service. From tonight people will only be able to leave the house for a select few reasons. These are:
- Shopping for basic necessities
- One form of exercise per day e.g. running, walking, or cycling.
- For any medical need or to care for a vulnerable person
- Travelling to and from work ONLY if you cannot work from home.
This means that you will no longer be able to see family you do not live with or visit friends – the Prime Minister went to great lengths to stress that if a friend asks you to meet with them you must say no. Libraries, playgrounds, and outdoor gyms will also be closed from tomorrow and gatherings of more than two people are not allowed. The Prime Minister also announced that social events will all be cancelled including ceremonies like weddings or baptisms, but that funerals will still be going ahead. Parks, for the time being at least, will remain open but strictly for the use of exercise. Gatherings within them will be dispersed.
The Prime Minister said that police will have the power to enforce these restrictions through methods such as fines and dispersing gatherings of people. Full details are yet to emerge of the intricacies of the enforcement methods but will likely emerge in due course. The chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation has expressed some reservations at the measures, saying that he fears they may lose the trust of the general public. But he did express support in his members saying that he believed they would, as always, rise to the challenge of the occasion.
This was clearly an uncomfortable decision for the Prime Minister and one that he has done his best to avoid having to implement. However, with scenes at the weekend of packed public spaces such as beaches and parks, his hand appears to have been forced and it’s clear that both he and the government did not believe that the virus would be properly contained, and vital services properly shielded, without these measures being brought into force. He said the “way ahead was hard” and that there were “no easy options” at this stage. However, he did seek to placate any feelings of helplessness that people might have. Indeed, the language of his speech specifically painted the idea that this is not a case of what people cannot do, but what people can and indeed must do in order to help those around them.
The UK is not alone in bringing in such measures, many countries across Europe have already implemented them with varying degrees of severity. He has said that initially these stringent measures will be reviewed in a few weeks and, only if it is advisable to do so, they may be relaxed. Equally however, it should be considered that many countries in Europe are gradually increasing restrictions as opposed to reducing them.
In the UK, measures to contain and fight the virus are still underway. 7,500 former clinicians are returning to the NHS in order to beef up its staffing power, and the first of the U.K.’s clinical trials began today in Oxford. There is, however, a long way to go, and the Prime Minister was clear to say that “many lives will sadly be lost”.
The best thing that can be done now by individuals is to follow the government’s advice, make use of home delivery services of food and essentials where possible, and look out for those closest to them. These measures are unprecedented certainly in living memory, and possibly in the U.K.’s history. These measures, that were unthinkable just a few weeks ago with the outbreak of the virus in China, are now the responsibility of everybody to adhere to in order to stop the spread of COVID-19, and protect society’s most vulnerable people, and it’s vital services.
Image credit: Gov.uk
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