British PM Starts to Shut Down Britain Again as COVID-19 Spreads

LONDON (Reuters) -
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, wearing a face mask, visits the headquarters of the London Ambulance Service NHS Trust in London, in July. (Ben Stansall/Pool via AP)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will tell people on Tuesday to work from home and will impose new curbs on pubs, bars and restaurants in a bid to tackle the swiftly accelerating second wave of the coronavirus outbreak.

In an address to Parliament in the morning and then to the nation later in the evening, Johnson will stop some way short of a full national lockdown of the sort he imposed in March.

“We know this won’t be easy, but we must take further action to control the resurgence in cases of the virus and protect the NHS,” Johnson will say, according to excerpts of his remarks distributed by his Downing Street office.

The measures come after senior medics warned on Monday that Britain faced an exponentially growing death rate within weeks unless urgent action was taken.

New COVID-19 cases are rising by at least 6,000 a day in Britain, according to week-old data, hospital admissions are doubling every eight days, and the testing system is buckling.

The new curbs will restrict the hospitality sector to table service only, by law.

Just weeks after urging people to start returning to work, Johnson will advise them to work from home if they can. He will also order all restaurants and other hospitality sites across England to start closing at 10 p.m. from Thursday.

“One of the things we are going to emphasize is that if it is possible for people to work from home, we are going to encourage them to do so,” Michael Gove, the minister for the cabinet office, told Sky News.

“There is going to be a shift in emphasis.”

While millions across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are already under some form of restriction, Johnson is not expected to announce a full-fledged lockdown of the kind seen in March.

The United Kingdom already has the biggest official COVID-19 death toll in Europe – and the fifth largest in the world – while it is borrowing record amounts in an attempt to pump emergency money through the damaged economy.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he had agreed with local council leaders and public health experts on new COVID-19 restrictions to be put to central government, in an attempt to stem the outbreak in the capital.

British schools should remain open, and workplaces that need their staff on the premises should do so in a COVID-secure way, senior cabinet minister Michael Gove said on Tuesday ahead of the address by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

“We’re trying to strike a balance. We’re trying to say that schools, of course, should remain open. We want workplaces where people have to be in the factory or in the shop in order to do their job to remain open in a COVID-secure way,” he said in a BBC interview.