By Ned Simons
Boris Johnson has ordered the closure of all pubs, cafes and restaurants across the UK, as the government escalated measures to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
The prime minister’s order also applies to nightclubs, theatres, leisure centres and gyms.
Many people were still gathering in across the country this week despite pleas to avoid mass gatherings – a stark contrast to scenes elsewhere across the globe.
Johnson said while he understood closing bars was a big move, it was necessary.
“Please don’t go out tonight,” he said. “You may think you’re invincible, but you may be carrier.
“You’re not only putting your own life and the lives of your family at risk – you are endangering the community.”
It came as chancellor Rishi Sunak said that “for the first time in our history” the government will step in and help pay people’s wages through a coronavirus job retention scheme.
Speaking at a press conference in Downing Street, the prime minister said: “The speed of our eventual recovery depends entirely on our collective ability to get on top of the virus now and that means we have to take the next steps on scientific advice.
“And following our plan we are strengthening the measures announced on Monday.
“We need now to push down further on that curve of transmission between us.
“And so following agreement with all the […] devolved administrations, we are collectively telling cafes, pubs, bars and restaurants to close tonight as soon as they reasonably can and not to open tomorrow.”
He added: “Though, to be clear, they can continue to provide take-out services.”
Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s scientific adviser, on Thursday warned “the mixing in pubs and restaurants and so on that is part of allowing the disease to spread needs to stop”.
“It needs to stop among young people as well as older people,” he added.
And this morning Matt Hancock, the health secretary, this morning urged people to “stay at home to stay lives”.
“How quickly we get through this will be determined by the actions of every single person in this country,” he told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme.
It came as it was revealed scientists advising the government agreed social distancing measures will need to be in place for most of a year at least in order to control the spread of Covid-19.
The scientific pandemic influenza group on modelling agreed on Monday that, while the severity of measures could alternate during the period, “stricter” measures would need to be enforced for at least half of the year in order to keep cases at a level the NHS can cope with.
The government published the papers a day after Johnson said he expected the tide could be turned in the fight against Covid-19 within 12 weeks.
Labour has also begun to issue more pointed criticism of the government’s approach than it has done so far.
Jon Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, hit out at “confused briefings” by the prime minister.
“Lack of clarity undermines the social distancing measures urgently needed. This is a health crisis not an inconvenience. We all need to change behaviour but we need government action as well,” he said before this afternoon’s Downing Street press conference.