LONDON: Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned on Sunday he may impose tougher controls on the British public as packed parks, markets and cafes at the weekend showed thousands of people defying government warnings about social distancing.
The PM gave notice of potential tougher action as the latest health department figures revealed that 281 people had now died from COVID-19 in the UK, an increase of almost 50 fatalities in the past 24 hours, and there are 5,683 confirmed cases.
“Please follow the advice and don’t think that the fresh air gives you some immunity,” he told a Downing Street press briefing. “You have to stay two meters from each other.”
The government would take “additional measures” if people continued to fail to comply, and ministers were keeping options under review, he added.
“If people won’t do it, we’ll bring in tougher measures.”
Earlier, he warned that Britain was “accelerating” along the same coronavirus path as the one devastating Italy.
Britain’s death toll mirrors the figure that Rome declared just over two weeks ago, on March 7, before Italy became the world’s most affected country.
On Sunday, Italy said that 4,825 people had died from the virus there, a third of the world’s total.
“We are only a matter of weeks — two or three — behind Italy. The Italians have a superb health care system. And yet their doctors and nurses have been completely overwhelmed by the demand,” said Johnson.
Other British political leaders on Sunday also called for tougher action.
In London, the worst affected UK city, Mayor Sadiq Khan told the BBC that police may have to step in to enforce social distancing.
“If it is the case that people continue to act in a way that’s leading to this disease spreading, then those sorts of things will have to be considered.”
Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon, at her Sunday press briefing, criticised pubs which opened over the weekend despite being warned not to, claiming they “put lives at risk”.
“Close now. We’ll have emergency powers within days to force you to close and we will use these powers if we have to,” she warned.
On Friday, Johnson announced what he called “draconian” measures to combat the spread, including the closing of bars, pubs and restaurants. Almost all schools will be closed from Monday.
Ministers have also outlined emergency legislation to give police, public health and immigration officers extra powers, expected to come into force this week.