British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced new coronavirus prevention measures Tuesday in a bid to stop the United Kingdom’s steadily increasing number of infections, vowing that “this is the moment that we must act.”
The new restrictions, which Johnson says could remain in effect for six months, include requiring people to wear face masks in taxis and on public transit and for bars, restaurants and other entertainment venues in England to close down between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
“I want to stress that this is by no means a return to the full lockdown of March,” Johnson said during an address to lawmakers in the House of Commons. “We are not issuing a general instruction to stay at home, we will ensure that schools, colleges and universities stay open because nothing is more important than the education, health and wellbeing of our young people.
“We will ensure that businesses can stay open in a COVID-compliant way,” he added. “However, we must take action to suppress the disease.”
The announcement comes a day after the British government’s top scientific and medical advisers said new coronavirus infections were doubling every seven days in the country and could rise to 49,000 a day by mid-October if nothing was done to stem the tide.
On Monday, the government reported 4,300 new confirmed cases, the highest number since May.
The U.K. has gradually been increasing restrictions as cases rise, including barring people from meeting in large groups. But the measures are less stringent than the nationwide lockdown imposed in March that confined most of the population and closed most businesses. Britain eased its lockdown starting in June as cases began to fall, but that trend has now been reversed.
Other new restrictions announced by Johnson on Tuesday include weddings being limited to 15 people instead of 30. A plan to bring spectators back to sports stadiums starting in October also is being put on hold, while the British government is increasing penalties for those found breaking the rules. And Johnson is urging anyone who can work from home to do so.
“For the time being this virus is a fact of our lives... and our fight against it will continue,” he said. “We will not listen to those who say let the virus rip, nor those who urge a permanent lockdown.”
But some lawmakers from the governing Conservative Party are uneasy about tightening restrictions on business and daily life, citing the impact on Britain's already-reeling economy and the curbing of civil liberties.
Employers and workers in hospitality businesses are also concerned.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade body UKHospitality said before the announcement that the restrictions were “another crushing blow” for many businesses.
Britain has the highest confirmed virus death toll in Europe, at 41,877 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University that experts say undercounts the true toll of the pandemic due to limited testing and other factors.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.