London, 23 September 2020 (dpa/MIA) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday announced tighter social distancing rules and promised tougher enforcement after an “exponential” surge in coronavirus infections across the country this month.
“The virus has started to spread again in an exponential way,” Johnson said in a televised address to the nation on Tuesday night.
“Infections are up, hospital admissions are climbing,” he said. “We can see what is happening in France and Spain, and we know, alas, that this virus is no less fatal than it was in the spring … and that we risk many more deaths.
“So today I set out a package of tougher measures in England,” he said, referring to his earlier speech to parliament.
Johnson said pubs and restaurants must close by 10 pm (2300 GMT) daily, asked people to work at home where possible, and extended requirements to wear face masks in public settings.
He said the measures could last up to six months and were designed to save lives, protect the National Health Service and limit economic damage. “This is by no means a return to the full lockdown of March,” he said, with no closures of schools or most businesses.
Johnson said he had phoned the leaders of devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, who would be “taking similar steps.”
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon later announced a ban on indoor meetings between different households from Wednesday, a move advocated for England by some health experts.
Opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer said Johnson’s new measures were necessary but had not been “inevitable.”
Starmer highlighted the government’s lack of testing in the early months of the pandemic and its failure to develop an effective testing system since then.
“Instead of getting a grip, the government has lost control. Our testing system collapsed just when we needed it most,” Starmer said in a speech to Labour members.
He claimed Johnson was “just not up to the job.”
“With one of the highest death rates in the world, and on the threshold of one of the deepest recessions anywhere, I’m afraid there is no doubt: This government’s incompetence is holding Britain back,” Starmer said.
Government health adviser Colin Semple told the BBC that Britain was on track for a “worst-case scenario” that could involve tens of thousands more deaths over the winter.
The broadcaster quoted a report leaked at the end of last month from the government’s scientific advisory committee that suggested a “reasonable worst-case scenario” of 85,000 coronavirus-linked deaths this winter.
It said Semple, a professor of child health and outbreak medicine at Liverpool University, spoke in a personal capacity.
The government’s chief scientific advisor, Patrick Vallance, warned on Monday that Britain could face up to 50,000 new coronavirus infections daily by next month and 200 deaths per day by mid-November without tougher measures to halt the spread of infections.
Some 14 million of Britain’s 67 million people are already covered by local lockdowns.
Britain has reported some 400,000 coronavirus infections since March. Its official death toll linked to Covid-19 is nearly 42,000, Europe’s highest total.