Office workers will be encouraged to work from home where possible, pubs and bars must close by 10pm and there will be no return of spectators to major sporting events, as part of a raft of new restrictions announced by the Prime Minister today (22 September).
Speaking in the House of Commons, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the country has “reached a perilous turning point”, before laying out “carefully judged” new restrictions, including a mandatory 10pm closing time for pubs, restaurants and cafes, and increased fines for breaking the rules.
Mr Johnson addressed parliament after rising speculation over new coronavirus restrictions, having spoken with the leaders of devolved administrations yesterday and chairing a COBRA meeting this morning.
His speech followed the televised statement delivered by Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance yesterday, in which they warned that “if we do too little, this virus will get out of control.”
Mr Johnson said that the number of people testing positive for coronavirus per day has “almost quadrupled” in the last month, to 3,929 people per day. He said this is not “merely a function of more testing” because a rising proportion of tests are yielding positive results.
The Prime Minister stressed that, without action, a major rise in daily infections per day would lead to an increase in daily deaths, “as night follows day.”
“This is the moment when we must act,” Johnson said.
“If we can curb the number of daily infections and reduce the reproduction rate to 1, we can save lives, protect the NHS and more vulnerable and shelter the economy from the far sterner and more costly measures that would inevitably become necessary later on.”
Before announcing the new restrictions, Mr Johnson said that “this is by no means a return to the full lockdown of March” and clarified that there will not be a general instruction for people to stay at home, nor will schools, colleges or universities shut down.
What are the new restrictions
Laying out new restrictions for England, the Prime Minister said, “First, we are once again asking office workers who can work from home to do so. In key public services and all professions where home working is not possible, such as construction or retail, people should continue to attend their workplaces.
“Second, from Thursday [24 September], all pubs, bars and restaurants must operate a table service only, except for takeaways. Together with all hospitality venues, they must close at 10pm, and to help police enforce this, that means closing and not just calling for last orders, because simplicity is paramount. The same will apply to takeaways, though deliveries can continue thereafter.”
Mr Johnson said he was sorry that this will impact many businesses, but that “we must act to stop the virus from being transmitted in bars and restaurants.”
He continued, “Third, we will extend the requirement to wear face coverings to include staff in retail, all users of taxis and private hire vehicles, and staff and customers in indoor hospitality, except when seated at a table to eat or drink.
“Fourth, in retail leisure and tourism and other sectors, our Covid-secure guidelines will become legal obligations. Businesses will be fined and could be closed if they breach the rules.”
Johnson went on to announce a “tightening up” of the rule of six, meaning a reduction in the maximum people allowed to attend wedding ceremonies and receptions to 15. The restrictions on funerals will remain the same, however.
The Prime Minister also said that "large sporting events” will not be able to carry on with plans to bring spectators back, but that ministers are “working urgently” to provide support to these industries.
During his speech, Johnson confirmed an increase in the penalties for people who break the rules, including a £10,000 fine for businesses and a £200 fine in the first instance for failing to wear a mask or breaking the rule of six.
While he said he “fervently” wants to avoid it, Mr Johnson said that if the proposed actions did not succeed in bringing down the R-rate, the government “reserves the right to deploy greater firepower with significantly greater restrictions.”
“It now falls to each of us to remember the basics, wash our hands, cover our faces, observe social distancing and follow the rules,” the Prime Minister said.
“Then we can fight back against this virus, shelter our economy from even greater damage, protect the most vulnerable in care homes and hospitals, safeguard our NHS and save many more lives.”