Lockdowns in countries like France and Italy have already been in place for weeks amid the coronavirus pandemic and now the UK Government has toughened up measures to slow the spread of the virus in the country.
Addressing the public on 23 March, Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined a series of strict social measures, including the closure of non-essential shops and the banning of social gatherings, while ordering members of the public to stay at home with only a few exceptions.
While Britain’s current measures to slow the spread of the virus might not be quite as strict as some countries on the continent, it looks like we could be heading that way.
Here’s everything you need to know.
What measures has the government introduced?
The UK Government gradually tightened up restrictions for the public, with all bars and restaurants ordered to close on Friday 20 March.
And toughening up measures even more during a press conference on 23 March, the Prime Minister introduced what First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said “amounts to a lockdown”.
The public have been ordered to “stay indoors” and to only leave the house for one of these four reasons:
- Shopping for basic necessities such as food and medicine. Shopping trips should be as infrequent as possible
- One form of exercise a day such as a run, walk, or cycle. This should be done alone or only with people you live with
- Any medical need, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person. This includes moving children under the age of 18 between their parents' homes, where applicable. Key workers or those with children identified as vulnerable can continue to take their children to school
- Travelling to and from work, but only where work absolutely cannot be done from home
The government has announced strict social distancing measures, banning gatherings of more than two people.
It was announced that the police will have powers to impose fines on those breaking the stringent rules, and can disperse gatherings.
What has happened elsewhere?
Countries like Italy and France have already imposed mandatory lockdowns to help protect their populations from Covid-19.
In Italy, citizens had to make an application to prove that their planned travel was necessary, and in France, only the most essential trips are allowed to be made.
Extra police patrol the streets of cities like Paris, handing out fines of up to €350 (around £330) to those who flout the rules without good reason.
In most countries affected by lockdowns, residents are still allowed out to stock up on supplies from grocery stores, or to exercise – at a safe distance from others.
Could an even tougher lockdown happen in the UK?
While the UK’s new measures are strict, they’re still not as draconian as those put in place in other European countries, and if the number of coronavirus cases and deaths continue to rise, more dramatic measures may be needed to stem its spread.
As warm weather enticed Britons outside over the weekend of 4/5 April, Health Secretary threatened that “all outdoors exercise” could be banned.
Speaking to Sky News, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: "This is not the sort of thing that anybody would want to do but, of course, it is the sort of thing we might have to do in order to protect life.
"Nothing is off the table" in terms of the future action which could be taken.”
Despite the Health Secretary’s threats, Housing and Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has said there are no "imminent plans" to impose greater social distancing restrictions.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast on 6 April, Jenrick said it would be “very unfortunate if we had to do so and make it harder for people, particularly people who live in flats in towns and cities, to get the exercise they deserve.
"Nobody wants to see that happen."
How long could a lockdown last?
Influenza specialist and epidemiologist Professor Van-Tam could not rule out that lockdown measures may have to last for a year, but predicted the measures will last at least "several months".
He told Today that more people will encounter the coronavirus and become resistant with so-called herd immunity, but "that will take time".
"We can't say how long this will need to go on for.”
Jenny Harries, deputy chief medical officer, said restrictions on everyday life could last for six months at one of the Government’s recent daily press conferences.
Robert Jenrick has stressed that the next couple of weeks will be "critical", before telling BBC Radio 4's Today programme on 1 April: "It's likely the numbers will get worse in the coming days before they get better.
"If we all adhere to the measures then there is reason to believe they will begin to flatten the curve and we could see the evidence coming through that the NHS is being able to cope with the situation as best as possible.
"If that is the case then there may be the potential to relax measures in a sensible way in accordance with medical advice in the weeks and months that would follow that."
In a letter to every household in Britain, Boris Johnson warned that the crisis would get worse before it gets better, and at one of the Government’s recent daily press conferences, Jenny Harries, deputy chief medical officer, said restrictions on everyday life could last for six months.
Will the coronavirus pandemic get worse?
The UK will soon begin to see its coronavirus cases peak in the same way that China has, according to the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Jenny Harries.
"If you have a new disease, the normal thing is, it will take off gradually. It will rise very rapidly at one point and come back down again when it effectively runs out of people in the population to infect."
Dr Harries said "many thousands of people" will be infected with coronavirus over the next few weeks as the disease continued to spread.
"Obviously we will have significant numbers in a way in which the country is not used to. This is the sort of thing that professionally we're trained for and very rarely see, almost in a professional lifetime," Dr Harries said.
"Large numbers of the population will become infected because it's a naive population, nobody has got antibodies to this virus currently. We will see many thousands of people infected by coronavirus, that's what we're seeing in other countries and the important thing for us is to make sure that we manage those infections."
Coronavirus: the facts
What is coronavirus?
COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can affect lungs and airways. It is caused by a virus called coronavirus.
What caused coronavirus?
The outbreak started in Wuhan in China in December 2019 and it is thought that the virus, like others of its kind, has come from animals.
How is it spread?
As this is such a new illness, experts still aren’t sure how it is spread. But, similar viruses are spread in cough droplets. Therefore, covering your nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing, and disposing of used tissues straight away is advised. Viruses like coronavirus cannot live outside the body for very long.
What are the symptoms?
The NHS states that the symptoms are: a dry cough, high temperature and shortness of breath - but these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have the illness. Look out for flu-like symptoms, such as aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose and a sore throat. It’s important to remember that some people may become infected but won’t develop any symptoms or feel unwell.
What precautions can be taken?
Washing your hands with soap and water thoroughly. The NHS also advises to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze; put used tissues in the bin immediately and try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell. Also avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth unless your hands are clean.
As of Monday 23 March the prime minister has put the UK into lockdown and instructed all citizens to stay at home. People can only leave their homes to exercise once a day, go shopping for food and medication, travel for medical needs or to care for a vulnerable person, and travel to work only if essential. Police will be able to enforce these restrictions.
All non-essential shops will close with immediate effect, as will playgrounds, places of worship and libraries. Large events or gatherings of more than two people cannot go ahead, including weddings and celebrations. Funerals can only be attended by immediate family.
Children of separated parents can go between both parents' homes.
Anyone with a cough or cold symptoms needs to self-isolate with their entire household for 14 days.
The government has now instructed bars, restaurants, theatres and non-essential businesses to close and will review on a ‘month to month’ basis. Schools closed from Friday 20 March for the foreseeable future, and exams have been cancelled.
The over 70s or anyone who is vulnerable or living with an underlying illness are being asked to be extra careful and stay at home to self-isolate. People with serious underlying health conditions will be contacted and strongly advised to undertake "shielding" for 12 weeks.
For more information on government advice, please check their website.
Should I avoid public places?
You should now avoid public places and any non-essential travel. Travel abroad is also being advised against for the next 30 days at least, and many European countries have closed their borders.
What should I do if I feel unwell?
Don’t go to your GP but instead look online at the coronavirus service that can tell you if you need medical help and what to do next.
Only call 111 if you cannot get help online.
When to call NHS 111
Only call NHS 111 if you can’t get help online and feel very unwell. This should be used if you feel extremely ill with coronavirus symptoms. If you have been in a country with a high risk of coronavirus in the last 14 days or if you have been in close contact with someone with the virus please use the online service.
Sources: World Health Organisation and NHS
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