British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday announced new restrictive measures to tackle a sharp rise in the country’s coronavirus cases.
“I am sorry this will affect many businesses just getting back on their feet, but we must act,” Johnson said in a statement to the House of Commons (lower house of parliament), adding that Britain has now reached a “perilous turning point”.
Johnson confirmed that from Thursday, all pubs, bars and restaurants in England must operate a table service only — except for takeaways — and will be forced to close at 10:00 p.m. BST (2100 GMT).
Staff are advised to work from home if they can, despite the governmental advice issued earlier this month to head back to workplaces.
The prime minister said schools and colleges will remain open and businesses can stay open in a “COVID compliant way”.
The new measures mean “in no way a return to the lockdown from March,” said Johnson.
The prime minister said staff in the hospitality and retail sectors, as well as passengers travelling in taxis will have to wear face coverings. Fines for not wearing a face covering will now double to 200 pounds (about 256.3 U.S. dollars) for a first offence.
Johnson also announced a tighten-up of the “rule of six”, as indoor sports teams will not be exempted.
The prime minister said the limit on wedding guests will now reduce from 30 to 15, and the phased reopening of stadiums for sports clubs has been cancelled.
Johnson said the restrictions may last for six months, warning that if new measures fail to bring the infection rates down, he will “deploy greater firepower with significantly greater restrictions”.
Meanwhile, tougher enforcement measures were also announced, with businesses facing fines or closure for failing to comply with coronavirus rules.
There were grave concerns among British business leaders, especially in the hospitality trade, which must also cope with 10 p.m. curfews from Thursday. They said some bars and restaurants may now close for good.
Meanwhile, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan urged the British government to go further by requiring face coverings in outdoor settings, where social distancing is not possible.
Johnson will address the nation on TV on Tuesday night. He chaired special meetings of the Cabinet and the Cobra emergency committee Tuesday morning.
Britain’s chief medical officers (CMOs) on Monday recommended moving the country’s COVID-19 alert level from level Three to level Four, which means COVID-19 epidemic is in general circulation and transmission is high or rising exponentially.
The British government’s Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance warned Monday that Britain could see 50,000 new cases of coronavirus per day by mid-October unless intervention is taken to slow the current infection rate.
The number of new COVID-19 cases was doubling roughly every seven days and Britain could see 200 deaths a day by mid-November, Vallance told a press briefing at 10 Downing Street.
Meanwhile, countries such as Britain, China, Russia and the United States are racing against time to develop coronavirus vaccines.
Vallance said it is possible that some vaccine could be available in small amounts later this year, but it is more likely that a vaccine will be available early next year, although that is not guaranteed.
Britain recorded another 4,368 infections overnight on Monday, bringing total number of coronavirus cases to 398,625. The coronavirus-related death toll rose by 11 to 41,788, according to official figures released Monday.