Boris Johnson refused to rule out stricter measures
Many Londoners were expecting dramatic curbs on movement around the capital similar to those imposed on Paris by French President Emmanuel Macron in response to the rapid rise in cases. Following alarm that many Londoners were ignoring emergency health advice, the Prime Minister said: “We do not rule out, because it would be quite wrong to do so, taking further and faster measures in due course.” Around a third of the 1,557 cases of infection recorded in England by yesterday were identified by health authorities in the Greater London area.
Yet despite the Government’s call for people to avoid minimise travel and going out, many Underground trains and buses in London were crowded yesterday.
Figures from Transport for London showed just a 19 percent decline in travel on the London Underground and a 10 percent reduction in bus journeys since the Prime Minister urged people to avoid unnecessary travel and try to work from home earlier this week.
In some areas, pubs were reported to be packed in the evenings in defiance of the official “social distancing” advice.
Officials in Whitehall and City Hall denied that a decision was imminent yesterday but admitted changing medical data could lead to further restrictions being announced.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who joins conference calls into regular Whitehall emergency “Cobra” briefings, yesterday said she expected “more stringent measures” for London where the outbreak was fast outpacing the rest of the UK.
A source at City Hall said: “We’ve not been told anything about this yet which suggests that it is not imminent but we are in a fast-moving situation. We are ready to take whatever action is needed to protect the health of Londoners.”
London Mayor Sadiq Khan
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said: “I support the decision to introduce the new measures this week as part of our efforts to slow down the spread of the virus.
“Everyone should halt non-essential contact with others and stop all unnecessary travel. That means not going to pubs, clubs, restaurants or other people’s homes. Mass gatherings should not happen.
“I would repeat – because this is so important – that all Londoners must follow the advice that applies to them.”
In Paris, citizens are under strict orders not to leave their homes without documentation confirming their need to go to work or go shopping. Police have powers to fine those in breach of the rules.
The Prime Minister declined to rule out putting London into lockdown during his daily Downing Street news conference.
“We’ve always said that we are going to do the right measures at the right time,” he said, when asked when the capital will be shut down.
“Actually I think a lot of people are taking a real heroic effort to comply with the advice we’ve given but as I’ve said tonight, and in the past few days, we keep everything under continuous review and we will not hesitate in bringing forward further and faster measures where we think that is necessary.”
Mr Johnson admitted being reluctant to issue edicts restricting people’s freedom but stressed he would do so if necessary to save lives in the face of the epidemic.
He declined to call people immoral for not heeding the social distancing advice, but said: “Of course people must make their own decisions, I’m a believer, as I say, in freedom.
“But let’s be absolutely in no doubt that these are very, very important choices that we are now making in our daily lives and the more closely and the more strictly, more ruthlessly, we can enforce upon ourselves, our families the advice we are getting, then the better we will be able to protect our NHS, the fewer deaths we will have and the less suffering there will be in the UK population.
“And the faster we will get through this and the better we will bounce back eventually.”
Emergency powers set to be rushed through Parliament will allow ministers to “close premises” and “restrict or prohibit events and gatherings” as well as restricting the transport network.
Downing Street said the Government would do “whatever is required” to keep the public safe, based on scientific advice.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “In terms of the measures that we are taking, we have always said they would be based on the latest and best scientific advice, including from the chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser.”
Asked whether people would not be allowed out unless they had paperwork to show their journey was necessary the spokesman said: “We have set out the steps which we think are necessary at this point in time.
“But we will be guided by scientific and medical advice to ensure we take the right steps to protect the public.”
Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance
Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said the Government’s modelling took into account that some people will fail to effectively follow social distancing advice but stressed that dismissing the guidance risks lives.
“The modelling does take into account that not everybody is going to follow it but a very high proportion need to, which means we all really need to focus on this,” he said.
“The moment we say, ‘It’s not for me it’s for somebody else,’ and the compliance goes down, the less effective it’s going to be.
“When we don’t adhere to this we are actually putting lots of people at risk.”
Published at Thu, 19 Mar 2020 00:01:00 +0000