U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced nationwide lockdown measures Friday, telling cafes, bars and restaurants to close.
“We are collectively telling cafes, pubs, bars and restaurants to close tonight as soon as they reasonably can and not to open tomorrow,” Johnson said at a daily briefing on the coronavirus.
He said takeout services for these businesses would be able to continue.
“We are also telling nightclubs, theaters, cinemas, gyms and leisure centers to close on the same timescale.”
“These are places where people come together, and indeed the whole purpose of these businesses in many cases is to bring people together. But, the sad thing is, I’m afraid today, for now at least, physically we need to keep people apart,” Johnson said.
It was not immediately clear whether the recommendations were enforceable by law, although Johnson said licensing laws would allow the government to order these businesses to close.
The prime minister said the newly announced measures would be reviewed on a monthly basis.
To date, the U.K. has reported 3,297 cases of the coronavirus, including 168 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Sterling rose on the news, trading up 1.5% to reach $1.1657 Friday evening London time.
Standing alongside Johnson at the daily press conference, U.K. Finance Minister Rishi Sunak announced the government would pay 80% of wages for employees who are unable to work — up to 2,500 pounds a month.
Sunak described the extra measures as “unprecedented” in the history of the British state.
It comes roughly 24 hours after the prime minister warned further restrictive measures might be needed in the capital city, with evidence suggesting the flu-like virus is spreading faster in London.
On Thursday, he suggested the U.K. could turn the tide against the coronavirus within 12 weeks if the right measures were taken.
Schools in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will close until further notice from Friday.
Johnson, a former mayor of London, has ruled out the prospect of stopping public transport, despite speculation about possible travel restrictions.
The U.K. government has been criticized for being too cautious with its approach to the outbreak.
Separately, Transport for London announced Thursday that up to 40 Tube stations on the London Underground had closed as part of a partial network shutdown.
TfL also said there would be no night Tube and that bus services would be reduced in the capital, a city of about 9 million residents.
Epicenter of the outbreak
The U.K. has reported the sixth-highest number of coronavirus cases in Europe, behind Italy, Spain, Germany, France and Switzerland. The World Health Organization recently declared Europe as the new epicenter of the outbreak.
Italy has recorded the highest number of COVID-19 infections on the continent. It has also registered more deaths than any other country worldwide, overtaking China — where the outbreak started in December.
Earlier this week, the U.K.’s finance minister announced a 330 billion pound ($398 billion) aid package of loans for businesses, as well as a business rates holiday and grants.