Boris Johnson Has Ordered Britain's Pubs, Bars, And Restaurants To Close
The government has been forced to introduce tougher measures to protect citizens from the coronavirus. A scheme described as "unprecedented in scope and scale" in the history of the UK will help pay people's wages.
Boris Johnson has ordered all cafés, pubs, bars, and restaurants in the UK to close from Friday night as the novel coronavirus continues to spread rapidly. Cinemas, gyms, and leisure centres will also be told to shut down.
Joining the prime minister on the podium, chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a new government scheme — which he described as "unprecedented in scope and scale" in the history of the UK — to help pay people's wages.
Announcing the new measures at his daily press briefing, the prime minister also urged people not to go out this evening to take advantage before the new restrictions set in.
“Please don’t," he said. "You may think that you’re invincible, but there’s no guarantee that you will get mild symptoms — and you can still be a carrier of the disease and pass it on to others.”
Johnson was expected to introduce stricter measures in London, where the virus is spreading fastest; he instead enforced the tough restrictions across the whole of the UK.
"We need to push down further on this curve," he told reporters at his daily press conference. "Following agreement between all the four nations of the United Kingdom, all the devolved administrations, we will be telling cafés, bars, pubs, and restaurants to close tonight as soon as they reasonably can and not to open tomorrow."
Johnson said the situation would be reviewed monthly to see whether the measures could be relaxed.
The prime minister also said the government would help employers pay their employees' wages as he urged businesses to reconsider before laying people off.
In what he described as "a great national effort to protect jobs”, Sunak said the government would pay up to 80% of employees' salaries up to a total of £2,500 per month — just above the median income.
"Any employer in the country, small or large, charitable or nonprofit, will be eligible for the scheme," he said. "Employers will be able to contact HMRC for a grant to cover most of the wages of people who are not working but are furloughed and kept on payroll rather than being laid off."
"For the first time in our history, the government is going to step in and help pay people's wages," said Sunak.
He added wages would be paid for three months initially, backdated to March 1, but that he would keep the situation under review and had not put a total limit on the amount of money available.
Sunak said he was helping the self-employed by removing the minimum income floor, meaning those affected can claim Universal Credit at a rate equivalent to Statutory Sick Pay for employees.
Johnson said: "Workers who are finding that their jobs are under threat or are going, through no fault of their own. And to all of them, we in government say: We will stand by you.
"And I say that to companies, remember our joint objective: to beat this virus. And we will do everything in our power to help."
The government has been forced to resort to more draconian measures after many failed to observe the suggested social distancing measures recommended by the government on Monday.
They included avoiding using public transport unnecessarily, working from home where possible, avoiding social gatherings, particularly in confined spaces such as pubs and bars, and staying away from theatres and cinemas.
However, ministers faced criticism for creating uncertainty by urging people to stay away from bars and restaurants, but not actually ordering them to shut. Business owners complained that the absence of an official ruling meant they would not be able to claim on insurance. Following the criticism, the government later said it would ensure businesses are able to claim — although many do not have the appropriate cover.
Johnson's administration has also faced criticism for being too slow to introduce measures adopted by other countries that may help to prevent the spread, such as closing schools and banning mass gatherings.
The latest measures, introduced by the prime minister at his daily press conference, include ordering not just bars and restaurants to shut, but also cafés, nightclubs, gyms, leisure centres, theatres, and cinemas — any nonessential confined public spaces.
Restaurants will still be able to offer takeaway and delivery services, and shops will be able to remain open.
Many bars, restaurants, and cafés have already shut their doors, reduced their hours, or switched to delivery services as customer numbers started to dwindle.
Just 24 hours ago, Johnson was asked about the possibility of introducing tougher restrictions in London, which has seen almost half of England's confirmed cases and almost 4 in 10 coronavirus-related deaths. The prime minister said he thought the social distancing advice was working without further intervention from government — but he left the door open for the introduction of stricter measures.
"If we feel that [the advice] isn’t working and we need to bring forward tougher measure, nothing is ruled out," he told reporters at Thursday's press conference.
"It is vital that people follow that advice. There is huge evidence that they are [social distancing] in the takings of the retail sector, the hospitality sector, [Transport for London] in inner London down about 50%, in outer London 60%, but some evidence that in parts of the capital it is very patchy and some areas where people aren’t following it in quite the way we need them to do."
However, he ruled out the idea of preventing people from travelling into and out of the capital.
Today he struck a tone of resilience: "Bit by bit, day by day, by your actions, your restraint, and your sacrifice, we are putting this country in a better and stronger position, where we will be able to save literally thousands of lives, of people of all ages, people who don't deserve to die now," he said.
"People whose lives can, must, and will be saved."