Mounting pressure for ‘total lockdown’ in UK as people ignore social distancing rules

Boris Johnson is under mounting pressure to order a widespread lockdown after thousands of people ignored calls for ‘social distancing’ to slow the coronavirus pandemic over the weekend

Tuesday, 24th March 2020, 2:47 pm

The Prime Minister said he will be thinking ‘very, very actively’ about what steps to take if people continue to gather in large numbers in defiance of calls to stay apart.

There was anger among MPs at scenes over the weekend of crowds flocking to parks, markets, beaches and beauty spots.

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Boris Johnson is under mounting pressure for a total lockdown during the coronavirus crisis

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Conservative former Cabinet minister Julian Smith said he would support ‘any measure’ the government brought forward to force people to comply with the guidance.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said ministers should be making ‘immediate preparations’ for the ‘next stage’ while learning from other European nations.

The calls came as the number of deaths in the UK rose to 281.

There are growing fears that Britain is on a similar trajectory to Italy - scene of the world's worst outbreak - where the death toll passed 5,000 over the weekend.

Mr Johnson warned that the NHS could be ‘overwhelmed’ in the same way as the Italian healthcare system has been, if the the spread of the virus in the UK is not curbed.

But at his daily No 10 press conference yesterday, Mr Johnson indicated he was reluctant to ban people from going outside for a walk or to exercise because of the physical and mental health benefits, as long as they acted responsibly.

The Government later issued updated guidance making clear that essential travel did not include visits to ‘second homes, camp sites, caravan parks or similar, whether for isolation purposes or holidays’.

Mr Smith, the former Northern Ireland secretary, said: “Many people have recklessly ignored government advice this weekend.

“I will support any measure the Government needs to force people to follow the guidelines designed to protect NHS staff and UK citizens' lives.”

For Labour, Mr Ashworth said: “We urge the Government to make immediate preparations for the next stage and learn lessons from other European nations.

“If voluntary social distancing measures are not adhered to, the Government must bring forward their plans for stronger action.”