KEY POINTS

  • Johnson outlined new restrictions including earlier closing time for hospitality venues and not reopening sports venues to fans
  • The prime minister said the restrictions may remain in place for six months but don't represent a return to full lockdown
  • Local officials across the U.K. have imposed lockdowns as government advisers warn cases could reach 50,000/day

Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered the United Kingdom to pause reopening on Tuesday as the country faces what he called a “perilous turning point” amid surging coronavirus cases.

The measures stop short of full lockdown, but they are  a notable shift for Johnson, who previously pushed to continue reopening.

As of Tuesday, the U.K. has over 400,000 confirmed cases and 41,799 reported deaths from coronavirus.

“After six months of restrictions it will be tempting to hope that the threat has faded, and to seek comfort in the belief that if you have avoided the virus so far then you are somehow immune,” Johnson said while speaking at the House of Commons. “I have to say that it is that kind of complacency that could be our undoing.”

New measures Johnson outlined, which he warned could be in place for up to six months, include:

  • Penalties for not wearing a mask or gathering in groups of more than six will increase to around $255 on the first offense.
  • From Thursday, all pubs, bars, and restaurants will be restricted to table service only. Takeaways can continue.
  • Hospitality venues must close at 10 p.m., which means shutting then, "not calling for last orders."
  • Office workers are being told to work from home if possible.
  • The planned return of spectators to sports venues will not go ahead.
  • Face coverings must be worn by shop staff, taxi drivers and passengers.
  • Customers in indoor hospitality venues will also have to wear masks, except when seated at a table to eat or drink.
  • Exemptions to the "rule of six" will be cut back, meaning indoor team sports such as five-a-side football matches will end.

Johnson was sure to stress while these measures will be strictly enforced, it does not mean the U.K. is reentering lockdown. He emphasized this by saying businesses and schools will remain open for the foreseeable future and no shelter-in-place order will be issued unless it is deemed necessary.

U.K. Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove echoed Johnson while speaking with the BBC.

“We are stressing that if it is safe to work in your workplace, if you are in a Covid-secure workplace, then you should be there if your job requires it,” Gove said. “But, if you can work from home you should.”

Despite Johnson’s trying to avoid lockdown, local officials don’t appear to be waiting on the prime minister to make a decision. Parts of England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland already imposed stricter measures than what Johnson outlined on Tuesday, most notably restricting people from meeting others from a separate household.

However, government advisers said Monday significant action needs to be taken by Parliament or cases will continue to surge.

“At the moment we think the epidemic is doubling roughly every seven days,” U.K. chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said. “If, and that's quite a big if, but if that continues unabated, and this grows, doubling every seven days, if that continued, you would end up with something like 50,000 cases in the middle of October per day.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said some 13 million people were already under local restrictions in northern and central England Prime Minister Boris Johnson said some 13 million people were already under local restrictions in northern and central England Photo: AFP / Ben STANSALL