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UK goes into shutdown to fight against Covid-19

By Aditi Khanna
March 21, 2020 15:18 IST
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The United Kingdom began going into complete shutdown on Saturday after the government called on bars, pubs, cinemas, theatres and all other social venues to close their doors indefinitely to the public in response to the rapidly-spreading novel coronavirus pandemic.

IMAGE: A general view in a deserted Piccadilly Circus in London as the spread of the coronavirus disease. Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters

The decision, that would be reviewed on a month-by-month basis, came a day after England registered its biggest jump in death toll of 39 to hit 177.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said all the venues usually used to bring people together must now close their doors to keep people physically apart.


Johnson said that after talks with all parts of the UK's devolved governments, the collective decision was for cafes, pubs, bars, restaurants, nightclubs, theatres, cinemas, gyms and leisure centres to stop trading, though an option for a takeaway version for the food industry remains available.

"These are places where people come together, and indeed the whole purpose of these businesses is to bring people together. But the sad things is that today for now, at least physically, we need to keep people apart," he said.

Chief constables in every police force across the UK will begin engaging civil contingencies designed to respond to events such as rioting and terrorism to enforce the shutdown.

IMAGE: A man walks through a deserted Covent Garden on the day Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered all pubs and restaurants to close in response to the growing number of coronavirus disease cases in London. Photograph: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

Scotland Yard warned staff that every available officer would be working 12-hour shifts and that they would be expected to use licensing laws to enforce the closure of venues that refused to comply with the guidelines.

The announcement has come as a massive blow to these businesses, which were already struggling with lower numbers of customers as increasingly people began working from home to follow the government's advice on social distancing to prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

Johnson was joined by his Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, at his daily Downing Street briefing during which the Indian-origin minister unveiled an unprecedented wage boost for people who find themselves facing hardship.

In a first-ever intervention, Sunak said that 80 per cent of wages for those unable to work due to the crisis will be covered by the government.

IMAGE: A woman wearing a protective face mask walks past a shop, as the spread of the coronavirus disease continues, in London. Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

"We are going to help workers of all kinds to get through this crisis. Supporting you directly in a way that government has never been done before, in addition to the package we have already set out for business," said Johnson.

"The more effectively we follow the advice we are given, the faster this country will stage both a medical and an economic recovery in full," he added.

He admitted that the new stringent social distancing measures were tough on the 'freedom-loving instincts of the British people' but stressed that the country would collectively beat the virus.

IMAGE: A general view in a deserted Trafalgar Square in London as the spread of the coronavirus disease continues, in London. Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters

The UK has already been under semi-lockdown measures but there were fears that many people were not taking the advice seriously enough, resulting in the forced closure of establishments as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases mounted to 3,983.

England's deputy chief medical officer, Dr Jenny Harries, reiterated that the government was not advising people against going outside but more about keeping a safe distance.

"We are saying, if you are going to go outside, go in a way that reduces your social contact," she said.

Meanwhile, schools also closed their gates indefinitely to the majority of pupils across the country on Friday, with some remaining open with a skeleton staff to allow children of key workers such as healthcare workers and those in the food delivery industry so that their parents can carry on their crucial tasks through the crisis.

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Aditi Khanna
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The War Against Coronavirus

The War Against Coronavirus