London Coronavirus Digest 23 March: Prime Minister says ‘stay at home’ and announces ‘national emergency’ movement curbs

London Coronavirus Digest 23 March: Prime Minister says ‘stay at home’ and announces ‘national emergency’ movement curbs

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced the most comprehensive restrictions ever imposed on the way of life of British people in attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19. From this evening all Londoners and everyone else in the UK must stay at home as much as possible and only leave in order to buy food or medicines, to take a single form of exercise each day, in order to attend to a medical need or care for a vulnerable person, or to travel to work if absolutely necessary.

Following the closure of restaurants, pubs, theatres and cafés ordered on Friday, the government has now said that all shops selling “non-essential” goods, all libraries, all playgrounds, all outdoor gyms and all places of worship must also shut. All social events are banned, including weddings, baptisms and other ceremonies, though funerals are exempt. Public parks will remain open for purposes of exercise, but gatherings in public of more than two people who are not members of the same household are now prohibited. Police will have powers to impose fines on those who break these new rules and to disperse groups of people. Johnson described coronavirus as “the biggest threat this country has faced for decades”.

Government ministers are just some of those in London and elsewhere who’ve been dismayed by Mothering Sunday weekend images of many thousands of Britons failing to follow social distancing advice as the number of confirmed COVID-19 coronavirus cases rises. Many parks and seaside reports were packed, perhaps suggesting people believe the virus cannot be picked up if you are out in the sunshine and fresh air. This argument cut little ice at Westminster or at City Hall or among London borough leaders. Johnson’s unprecedented curbs on movement follow other significant developments in the capital today.

  • Sadiq Khan’s appeals to Londoners to stay at home unless they absolutely have to became more stark. This afternoon he tweeted that he had just got off the phone to experts form the NHS and Public Health England and urged us: “I cannot say this strongly enough: if you care about your loved ones, if you care about our NHS, do not leave your home unless you have to. Ignore these instructions and people will die.” He took part in a COBR meeting with the PM and government officials by telephone this afternoon.
  • Finn Brennan, an ASLEF union organiser for the London Underground (and sometime On London contributor), reacted with dismay to images of Tube trains still packed during the morning travel peak, albeit use of the service has sharply declined. He said his members are “furious”, in part because the situation endangers their health as critical workers needed to keep an essential reduced service functioning safely and well for other critical workers.
  • London’s local authorities have been making plans for dealing with the pandemic for six or seven weeks, both individually and collectively as part of the capital’s wider resilience effort. That planning is now being put into effect in various ways at ground level. Among those getting their messages out to residents are Barking & Dagenham, Bexley, Brent, Camden, Greenwich, Islington, and Southwark. Information about what all boroughs and the City of London will be available on their websites and Twitter feeds.
  • The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the whole of Greater London as of this morning was 2,433. Southwark had the most with 154, followed by Brent with 142 and Lambeth and Westminster, both with 134. The lowest figure was Kingston’s 23 cases. The highest for a local or NHS authority in England, by the way, was Hampshire’s 171.

This article was last updated at 20:55 on 23 March 2020.

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