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U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged all British citizens to stop “non-essential” travel and contact with other people in an effort to fight the fast-spreading coronavirus outbreak.
Johnson warned that without “drastic action” now, the rate of infections could double every few days. He discouraged mass gatherings from Tuesday, saying they won’t receive the support of emergency services, and urged everyone who can do so to work from home.
“Now is the time for everyone to stop non essential contact with others and to stop all unnecessary travel,” the prime minister said. “You should avoid pubs, clubs, theaters and other such social venues.”
Officials accepted these so-called “social distancing” measures would be very difficult for the public, but stressed the plan would make a big difference to reducing the peak of the outbreak. The government is trying to protect the National Health Service from being overwhelmed by the scale of the pandemic.
Johnson’s dramatic statement, in a press conference in London on Monday, followed criticism that he has been too slow to take aggressive action in the fight against the virus.
Under the plan:
- If one person in a household has symptoms, the whole household must stay at home isolated for 14 days
- Individuals living alone with symptoms should isolate for 7 days
- People most at risk should be “shielded” from contact with others for 12 weeks
- London is at higher risk and residents should pay attention to advice to stop contact
- Further action including school closures may be needed in future
The measures will be necessary for “a minimum of weeks or months” and it may be longer “if we are to minimize mortality,” said the government’s Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty. The public should realize fighting coronavirus is going to be “a marathon.”
The prime minister accepted that his measures will be “a very considerable challenge for businesses big and small” and promised the government is doing all it can to ensure companies have the liquidity they need, including through relaxing the tax system.
He said it is “obvious” the virus would deliver a potentially severe blow to the British economy, but “if we work together we can ensure it is a short term problem.”
Group of Seven leaders agree markets should have access to liquidity, Johnson said, in answer to a question on the need for a global fiscal stimulus. “If we do things jointly I think the global markets will understand we are all operating on the same fiscal framework,” he said.
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