Boris Johnson has announced sweeping new Covid restrictions, imposing a curfew on pubs and restaurants and telling office workers to return to home working if they can. In a statement to the House of Commons, the Prime Minister said the UK is at a 'perilous turning point' and promised that more measures would be introduced if the rate of infection was not reversed.
From Thursday, a 10 p.m. curfew on pubs, bars and restaurants will be introduced under the new restrictions which he said could last up to six months. Meanwhile, planned relaxations for sporting events have been halted while retail staff will now be required to wear face masks. Johnson told the Commons earlier this afternoon: 'I am sorry that this will affect many businesses just getting back on their feet but we must act to stop the virus.'
Office workers have been told that they should return to working from home if they can. Those still travelling into work on public transport who fail to wear a mask will have their initial fine doubled from £100 to £200. The government's 'Covid secure guidelines' is also to become mandatory, with businesses facing fines or even closure if they fail to follow the rules. Companies that force their staff to break the new restrictions will also face a maximum £10,000 fine.
The PM said: 'There is nothing more frustrating for the vast majority who do comply — the law-abiding majority — than the sight of a few brazenly defying the rules.'
However, Johnson was keen to emphasise that the restrictions were not as severe as those imposed earlier this year, adding that people would still be able to visit shops and restaurants. However, weddings will be restricted to 15 attendees from Monday while the maximum number of 30 attendees will still be allowed for funerals.
He said that the measures were imposed under the principle that 'a stitch in time saves nine' and that by acting now, the government could: 'shelter the economy from the far sterner and more costly measures that would inevitably become necessary.'
Addressing suggestions that the growth in cases could be the result of an increase in testing, the PM said: 'I wish I could reassure the House that the growing number of cases is merely a function of more testing, but a rising proportion of the tests themselves are yielding a positive result.' Johnson added: 'I also wish I could say that more of our people now have the antibodies to keep the virus off, but the latest data suggest that fewer than 8 per cent of us are in this position.'
The PM concluded by saying that the UK was now in for the long haul, echoing the comments made by Chris Whitty yesterday in saying that the new restrictions could last for 'perhaps six months'.
The statement also contained a warning that a full lockdown could not been ruled out: 'If all our actions fail to bring the R number below one then we reserve the right to bring greater firepower... I fervently want to avoid taking this step but we will only be able to avoid it if these new measures work.'
Finally, Johnson made clear that MPs would have the chance to scrutinise No. 10's decisions as well as the government's scientific advisors in a bid to placate increasing unhappiness among parliamentarians.
Now listen to today's Coffee House Shots podcast with Cindy Yu, Katy Balls and James Forsyth on Boris's new restrictions: