In Brief

‘Stay at home’: Reaction as PM imposes strictest UK lockdown ‘in living memory’

Boris Johnson says police will have power to enforce emergency coronavirus measures

Boris Johnson has received widespread support after last night announcing a nationwide lockdown in a bid to stem the coronavirus outbreak.

In a televised statement, the prime minister told the British public that they “must stay at home”, announcing a raft of lockdown restrictions to limit the spread of the virus.

Describing this as a “moment of national emergency”, Johnson said people may only leave home to exercise once a day, to travel to and from work where “absolutely necessary”, to shop for essential items and to fulfil any medical or care needs.

He added that if people do not follow the rules, police will have the power to enforce the measures through fines and dispersing gatherings.

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The move has received support from across the political spectrum, with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn tweeting: “This is the right response to the coronavirus pandemic, and one we have been calling for.”

London Mayor Sadiq Khan also backed the move, saying in a statement: “Anyone who knows me, knows my liberal instincts, and I do not take this lightly - but these unprecedented circumstances require extraordinary measures.”

Acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, Ed Davey, added that while many would be “anxious” about the measures: “It is the right decision to restrict our normal way of life to tackle this crisis.”

The director general of the Confederation of British Industry, Carolyn Fairbairn, noted that the “latest measures will of course present great challenges, disrupting daily lives and the normal run of business”, but also backed the lockdown, adding: “Protecting the public will protect businesses in the long run.”

Within minutes of the prime minister’s announcement, Marin Hewitt, the chair of the National Police Chiefs Council, said the force was working “with the government and other agencies to consider how these new rules can be most effectively enforced”.

An unnamed police source told The Guardian that some officers were unhappy at the prospect of enforcing strict measures, describing it as “a total change of policing style”.

Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens, who has railed against lockdown measures for some days, offered a dissenting voice. Hitchens tweeted that anyone who welcomes the measures are “complacent fools, who do not deserve the liberty they inherited”.

However, Quentin Letts of The Times gave a more measured verdict on the prime minister’s announcement.

“The pace of his delivery, rattling it out, accentuated that this was a leader working in overdrive,” Letts wrote. “There was no time to lose. The absence of melodrama, paradoxically, made it all the more striking and urgent.”

As the UK death toll reaches 335, there may be more strict measures to come. The BBC’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, pointed out that Johnson could have gone further - and may yet do so. 

“Remember this though, is not quite the kind of total crackdown we have seen in other countries - at least not yet,” she writes. “Despite tonight’s enormous announcement, there are steps that other places have taken - curfews or total travel bans for example - that the UK is not pursuing.”

Kuenssberg also highlights that the government is not triggering the Civil Contingencies Act, which is designed for the most serious emergencies and gives ministers more wide-ranging executive powers.

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