Sat | Oct 31, 2020

UK leader orders new virus restrictions, could last 6 months

Published:Tuesday | September 22, 2020 | 9:06 AM
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson walks back into Downing Street after attending a cabinet meeting at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, Tuesday, September 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

LONDON (AP) — Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned Britons on Tuesday that they should not expect to return to a normal social or work life for at least six months, as he ordered new restrictions that he hopes will suppress a dramatic surge in coronavirus cases.

Saying that Britain had to act now or face a huge second wave of COVID-19, Johnson announced a package of new restrictions, including requiring pubs, restaurants and other entertainment venues in England to close down between 10:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. and urging people to work from home where possible.

Just weeks ago, Johnson had encouraged workers to go back into the office to keep city centers from becoming ghost towns and expressed hope that society could return to normal by Christmas. In a stark change of tone, he said Tuesday that “for the time being, this virus is a fact of our lives.”

“We will spare no effort in developing vaccines, treatments and new forms of mass testing, but unless we palpably make progress, we should assume that the restrictions I have announced will remain in place for perhaps six months,” Johnson told lawmakers in the House of Commons.

The announcement came a day after the government’s top scientific and medical advisers said new coronavirus infections were doubling every seven days in the UK and could rise to 49,000 a day by mid-October if nothing was done to stem the tide.

On Monday, the government reported 4,300 new confirmed cases, the highest number since May and four times the number seen just a month ago.

The new restrictions require face masks to be worn in taxis as well as on public transport.

The size of some gatherings is being curtailed, with weddings limited to 15 people instead of 30, and a plan to bring spectators back into sports stadiums starting in October is being put on hold.

Johnson did not reduce the number of people who can gather indoors or out, which remains at six.

The British government is also increasing the penalties for breaking the rules.

People who breach orders to quarantine face fines of up to 10,000 pounds ($12,800) and businesses that breach “COVID-secure” rules can be shut down.

The measures are less stringent than a nationwide lockdown imposed in March that confined most of the population and closed most businesses. Britain eased its lockdown starting in June as cases began to fall, but that trend has now been reversed.

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