British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday drastically scaled up the United Kingdom's social distancing plans as part of its fightback against the deadly coronavirus pandemic, calling for everyone to avoid non-essential contact with others and any unnecessary travel.
In a daily briefing from Downing Street after his latest Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms emergency meeting with senior scientists and advisers, Johnson called for people to start working from home and said the government would no longer support mass gatherings in order to focus emergency services towards the health crisis.
"It is time for everyone to stop non-essential contact with others and unnecessary travel. That means people should work from home where possible and avoid pubs, clubs and theatres," said Johnson.
"It looks as though we are approaching the fast growth phase of the curve, which means cases are expected to double every five days," he warned, adding that elderly and vulnerable people would have to begin self-isolating for an extended period of 12 weeks in a few days' time.
The latest briefing came as veteran Indian-origin Labour MP Virendra Sharma revealed on Twitter that he was self-isolating for seven days on medical advice as a 'precaution'.
"I have some of the symptoms, but no confirmation of COVID-19," said the 72-year-old MP for Ealing Southall in south-west London.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Indian students took to Twitter to seek clarifications of the Indian government's latest travel advisory which extends India's travel ban to anyone travelling from the UK and European
Union from 1200 GMT on Wednesday.
The National Indian Students and Alumni Union UK, a representative body for Indian students in the UK, expressed concerns over the 'unrest' among students keen to be with their loved ones in India.
"Given that many universities are switching to online teaching now or imminently, many students want to urgently travel back to India to be with their loved ones," said Sanam Arora, founder and chairperson of NISAU-UK.
The UK government's upgraded social distancing health advice is particularly targeted at people who are over-70, pregnant or with underlying health conditions. It also calls on all members of a family to stay
at home for 14 days if even one member of the household begins to show symptoms of a new cough and high fever.
The situation is particularly serious in London, which is said to be several weeks ahead of the rest of the UK in terms of the spread of coronavirus where a total 36 deaths have been recorded.
"So, to relieve the pressure on London health system and to slow the spread in London, it is important that Londoners now pay special attention to what we're saying about avoiding non-essential contact and to take particularly seriously, the advice about working from home and avoiding confined spaces such as pubs and restaurants," said Johnson.
Professor Chris Whitty, the government's Chief Medical Adviser, warned that the new tougher measures will be in place for a "prolonged period".
"This is going to go on for some time. We should not be under any illusions that 'if we just do this for a couple of weeks that is sufficient'," he said.
Sir Patrick Vallance, the government's Chief Scientific Adviser, also reiterated that further steps such as school closures will also be put in place at the right time.
Vallance said: "This is not a series of small interventions. You would anticipate that this could have a dramatic effect to reduce the peak and to reduce death rates. They are not easy but they are important and
they will have the effect if we all do it.
"This is a matter for us to take accountability to make sure we help each other, protect ourselves and protect the National Health Service."
Against the backdrop of some criticism of the UK's perceived slower social distancing and testing strategy, Johnson sought to defend his government's handling of the crisis.
Johnson said: "Over the last few days I've been comparing notes and talking to leaders around the world and I can tell you the UK is now leading a growing campaign amongst all of our friends and allies, whether in the G7, the G20, the UN or the IMF -- all those bodies in which we play a significant role.
"We're leading a campaign to fight back against this disease, to keep the economy growing -- to make sure that humanity has access to the drugs and the treatments which we all need and the UK is also is at the front of the effort to back business to back our economy to make sure that we get through it."