(LONDON) — Prime Minister Bori Johnson said the U.K. could “turn the tide” of the coronavirus outbreak in the next 12 weeks if the public follows government guidance on social distancing and isolation.
But he has stopped short of closing down restaurants, bars and cafes in London despite school closures across the country.
As of yet the U.K. has not locked down populated areas in the same way as other major European countries.
The prime minister on Thursday thanked the public for following the government’s advice so far, saying that “ruthless, determined collective action” as well as “scientific progress” were key to combatting the spread of the virus.
That means the current government guidelines remain in place, which advises residents over the age of 70, vulnerable groups and those with symptoms to self-isolate.
There have been 2,626 positive cases in the U.K. and 137 deaths so far.
Earlier this week, the British government moved to close all schools and colleges until further notice, and 40 subway stations have been closed in the capital to reduce unnecessary travel.
The prime minister said closing pubs, clubs and restaurants would not be ruled out.
The prime minister’s briefings were introduced amidst criticism that the government has not been transparent enough in its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
On Monday, the government announced a massive economic relief package to shore up the economy. Chancellor Rishi Sunak described it as an “economic emergency” said he was willing to go further to support businesses and individuals if needed.
Meanwhile, the government has proposed a law that would grant lawmakers sweeping new powers to deal with the threat posed by the virus. The law will seek to ease the administrative burden on health workers dealing with the virus, strengthen the government’s powers to reduce unnecessary social contacts and gatherings and give quarantine powers to police and immigration officers to briefly detain a person who may be infected.
The government has said the new measures will “only be used when strictly necessary.”
The law is expected to be passed by lawmakers in a parliamentary vote on Monday and stands for two years. The leader of the opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, wrote to the prime minister on Wednesday to call for a fresh vote on the law every six months.
While the major changes to life seen in other European countries have not yet taken place the U.K., major supermarkets have been forced to issue restrictions on purchases of key items. The government has also moved to assuage further fears that Britain’s National Health Service will be unable to cope with demand by calling on private companies to assist in ventilator production.
The ministry of defense announced that 20,000 personnel have been placed at a level of “higher readiness” to support public services in response to the outbreak and that army reservists may be called up to assist in the collective effort.
“The men and women of our armed forces stand ready to protect Britain and her citizens from all threats, including COVID-19,” Ben Wallace, the secretary of defense, said in a statement. “From me downwards the entirety of the Ministry of Defense and the armed forces are dedicated to getting the nation through this global pandemic.”
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