Coronavirus: ‘Work from home if you can’ and 10pm nightlife ban as government tries to tackle virus surge
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Pubs, bars and restaurants throughout England will be forced to close at 10pm from Thursday, while people have been told to work from home again if they can.
In a House of Commons statement followed by a TV address to the nation, Boris Johnson will unveil a range of new measures to tackle the dramatic surge in COVID-19 cases.
Watch and follow live on Sky News as Boris Johnson updates MPs on coronavirus plans at 12.30pm – with a Downing Street broadcast at 8pm
Speaking to Sky News ahead of the statement, Michael Gove said there would be a “shift in emphasis” and “if it is possible for people to work from home they should do so”.
“They are reluctant steps that we’re taking, but they’re absolutely necessary because as we were reminded yesterday and as you’ve been reporting, the rate of infection is increasing, the number of people going to hospital is increasing, therefore we need to act,” the Cabinet Office minister told Kay Burley.
The clampdown, which will include the whole of the hospitality sector being restricted by law to table service only, comes after government medical chiefs raised the COVID-19 alert level.
The chief medical officers for England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales raised the level from three to four, which means a high or rising level of transmission requires enforced social distancing.
While the 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants will dismay the hospitality industry, there will be relief that the government is not proposing a total shutdown, although that could happen in some coronavirus hotspots.
London’s mayor Sadiq Khan has told Sky News he is proposing up to 15 new restrictions in the capital, including masks being worn in more public areas, curbs on weddings and funerals, and more people working from home.
What is the UK's 'COVID alert level' and what does it mean?
The crackdown in England will be revealed by Mr Johnson in a day of frenetic activity for the prime minister, which began with an 8.30am cabinet meeting at which ministers were expected to sign off Downing Street’s proposals.
Mr Johnson is chairing an emergency meeting of the COBRA committee of senior ministers and officials, as well as the first ministers of Scotland and Wales, Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford, and the first minister and deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill.
That will be followed by Mr Johnson’s statement in the Commons at about 12.30pm and his TV address, which Downing Street says will be broadcast at 8pm.
According to Number 10, the TV broadcast will be about “further ways we will confront the virus in line with the latest scientific advice, and the role everyone can continue to play in tackling the spread, including by following the social distancing guidance, wearing face coverings and washing hands regularly”.
Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy told Sky News the end of the government’s back to work drive was not a surprise, adding: “If it takes the pressure off those people who have to go into the workplace, then I think it’s very welcome news.”
She added: “But I do hope the government comes forward with a much more comprehensive message later today.
“I think people are now really struggling to understand what it is they’re being asked to do and why.”
Revealing the scale of preparation for the prime minister’s announcement of further measures, Downing Street has disclosed that he held meetings with scientific advisers, ministers and senior officials to discuss the latest on the pandemic throughout the weekend.
On Saturday, the cabinet was briefed by England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty, chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, and the chief economist Clare Lombardelli.
And on Sunday evening, Mr Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak held a special summit to hear scientific views from across the spectrum.
Then the working week began with Professor Whitty and Sir Patrick giving a briefing showing the number of coronavirus cases currently doubling around every seven days, and warning that if that continued there could be close to 50,000 cases a day by the middle of October.
After their briefing, at which the pair outlined potential scenarios for a “very challenging winter period”, the prime minister spoke with the leaders of the devolved nations and told them the rising inflection rates were a cause for great concern, which he was taking very seriously.
Later, Ms Foster announced that people in Northern Ireland would be banned from mixing with other households indoors.
In Wales, about a third of the population will be under a form of local lockdown from Tuesday and in Scotland, Ms Sturgeon said more restrictions would be announced shortly.
Responding to the raising of the COVID-19 alert level, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it reflected a significant shift in the current threat posed by coronavirus.
“This country now faces a tipping point in its response and it is vital everybody plays their part now to stop the spread of the virus and protect lives,” he said.
London restrictions on the horizon – but how bad is COVID in the capital?
Mr Khan later announced he had agreed a London plan with council leaders from all parties and public health experts to slow the spread of the virus and save Londoners’ lives.
He said he would be discussing the plan with Mr Johnson and asking the government to implement it.
“Without adequate testing or contact tracing in London, we have no choice but to look at other measures to slow the spread of the virus,” said the capital’s mayor.
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“I firmly believe that acting early, rather than having to impose more stringent measures later, is the right thing to do both for public health and the economy.
“I know that many Londoners, like me, will be deeply frustrated at the likelihood of imminent new restrictions. Londoners have shown incredible resolve by steadfastly following the rules and doing the right thing – at great cost.
“However, taking firm action now to prevent a deeper and longer lockdown in the future is without a doubt the best thing to both save lives, and protect jobs and our economic recovery.”