Boris johnson warned on tuesday that sweeping new measures to control coronavirus could be in place for six months, as he abandoned attempts to persuade britons to return to the office.
The prime minister set out new covid-19 restrictions in england to mps at lunchtime and said the armed forces could be deployed to help police enforce them. he will deliver a televised address to the nation at 8pm.
We are asking office workers who can work from home to do so, he said, in a sharp change of tack. he also confirmed plans to close all pubs, restaurants and bars at 10pm from thursday.
We have reached a perilous turning point, mr johnson said in a statement to the house of commons. this is the moment when we must act. he wanted to shield the economy from the risk of much sterner restrictions later on, adopting the principle of a stitch in time saves nine.
He said the government reserved the right to use further firepower if the r number, the number of people that each infected person in turn infects, failed to fall below one. the whole objective is to avoid a second national lockdown, he said.
Mandatory face coverings will be extended to include people working in retail and hospitality and to passengers travelling in taxis. weddings and wedding receptions will be limited to 15 people from monday. indoor team sports of more than six people will be banned.
More covid-19 guidance to business, such as requiring hospitality venues to provide table service only, will be put into law to strengthen enforcement powers. businesses could be closed or fined if they break the rules, he said.
Fines for members of the public failing to wear a mask when required will rise to 200 for a first offence. downing street said the armed forces would not be handing out fines but could backfill for the police using tried and tested mechanisms to free up frontline officers to enforce the rules.
Takeaways will have to close at 10pm, but deliveries can continue after that time. plans to open sports stadiums to fans from october 1 have been cancelled, along with proposals to reopen conference venues.
But mr johnson also delivered another blow to the economy, particularly city centres, by abandoning his efforts earlier this month to persuade workers to have the confidence to return to their offices.
We are asking office workers who can work from home to do so, mr johnson said. a plan to bring 80 per cent of civil servants back to their offices has been abandoned.
Downing street officials said there was a shift in emphasis on the governments advice about going back to the workplace, but nothing like the dramatic warnings against travel introduced earlier in the pandemic.
The developments came after mr johnson chaired cabinet and a cobra emergency committee, ahead of setting out the new covid-19 plan to the nation.
The prime minister is treading a fine line between taking pre-emptive action to curb the spread of the virus and inflicting unnecessary damage on an economy that is still struggling to recover from the pandemics first wave.
Chancellor rishi sunak and many tory mps have led calls for mr johnson to move cautiously. the reversal of the governments previous back to the office message will cause unease in the treasury.
The rapid spread of the virus is forcing mr johnson to introduce new restrictions more quickly than he expected after chris whitty, the uks chief medical adviser, on monday warned of a very challenging winter.
The latest restrictions will cause serious disruption to the hospitality sector. last month, the treasury offered discounted meals to encourage people back into pubs and restaurants but, from thursday all venues will be told to close by 10pm, providing table service only.
Kate nicholls, chief executive of industry body ukhospitality, warned that a 10pm curfew could halve revenues at some venues to a level at which many businesses would struggle to survive.
Simon emeny, chief executive of pub group fullers, said: it is only the loss of one or two trading hours, but it will significantly undermine consumer confidence at a time when government should be reassuring consumers that pubs are one of the most heavily regulated places to socialise in.
In london the joint biosecurity centre on monday lifted the coronavirus threat level from three, meaning the epidemic is in general circulation, to four, where it is in general circulation and transmission is high or rising exponentially.