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March 24, 2020, 1:21 p.m. EDT

Britain becomes latest country in lockdown as police enforce new restrictions

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By Rupert Steiner


Getty Images
A deserted riverside area around the Tower of London and Tower Bridge on March 20.

Britain has become the latest European country to lockdown as the U.K. government announced a raft of restrictions preventing the population from leaving home apart from four exceptions.

There is now a blanket travel restriction, and police will have powers to fine or disperse people who venture onto the street for any other reason than to buy food, address any medical need, travel to a workplace for essential work, or undertake daily exercise. These steps come as the U.K. death toll rose to 335.

All shops selling nonessential goods have been told to close, and gatherings of more than two people in public who do not live in the same household have been banned.

Read : As the British government struggles with its coronavirus response, local communities are battling it with kindness

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “I must give the British people a very simple instruction: You must stay at home. To ensure compliance with the government’s instruction to stay at home, we will immediately close all shops selling nonessential goods, including clothing and electronic stores and other premises, including libraries, playgrounds and outdoor gyms, and places of worship.”

Watch: Boris Johnson announces total UK lockdown to tackle coronavirus

Johnson had ramped up the nation’s response to the outbreak last Friday, telling pubs, bars, restaurants, cafes, nightclubs, theaters, cinemas and gyms to close.

But he has been forced to go a step further after people were seen flouting his social-distancing recommendations over the weekend, with parks packed with people and buses and trains full of passengers.

See: Tourism hot spot in Wales has ‘busiest weekend in living memory’ amid rampant flouting of U.K.’s coronavirus advice

Most major sporting and social events have already been canceled, but it is only now that the government has taken the step to ban mass gatherings after making incremental decisions at what is described as “the right time based on the best scientific evidence.”

Johnson announced the sweeping changes from 10 Downing Street on Monday evening, saying: “We will look again in three weeks, and relax them if the evidence shows we are able to.”


Getty Images
Military vehicles cross Westminster Bridge after members of the 101 Logistic Brigade delivered a consignment of medical masks to St Thomas' hospital on March 24, 2020 in London, England.

Britons joins some 47 million Spaniards in staying at home in the attempt to contain the outbreak, while 40,000 Italians are being prosecuted for flouting similar restrictions aimed at protecting them. When Italy and Spain announced their lockdowns, markets reacted badly.

Read : Trapped in no-man’s land of coronavirus restrictions, some of Britain’s small businesses are wasting away

But the response by investors on Tuesday morning was positive, with the FTSE100 /zigman2/quotes/210598409/delayed UK:UKX -0.27%   rising 4% in early trading. The capital has been gradually shutting itself down, with as many as 40 London Underground tube stations having already closed and the after pubs and restaurants ban. However, the announcement Monday is still a significant step. All eyes will be on the Dow /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA -0.47% Tuesday which closed down 3% on Monday.

There have been 129 confirmed deaths from coronavirus in London which is by far the worst-hit area in a country where 6,650 cases have been confirmed.

Johnson said: “If you don’t follow the rules, the police will have the powers to enforce them, including through fines and dispersing gatherings.”

Last week the queen sent a message of support from Windsor Castle: “We know that many individuals and families across the United Kingdom, and around the world, are entering a period of great concern and uncertainty.

“Many of us will need to find new ways of staying in touch with each other and making sure that loved ones are safe. I am certain we are up to that challenge.”

Read : Second dog tests positive for coronavirus as owners warned not to abandon pets

There have been calls to delay Brexit talks by politicians who opposed Britain’s leaving the EU, with some claiming it was “absolutely insane” to stick to the original timetable. If the EU has not agreed a trade deal with Britain by Dec. 31 it will fall back onto World Trade Organization rules.

Complicating matters, Michel Barnier, the EU’s hardline Brexit negotiator, has tested positive for the coronavirus. He had come into contract with Ursula von der Leyen, EU Commission president, who was forced to take a test, which proved negative.

Read (from March 15): ‘It’s going to be daunting’: U.K. considers herd-immunity approach — allowing more people to contract coronavirus

/zigman2/quotes/210598409/delayed
UK : FTSE UK
6,033.77
-16.15 -0.27%
Volume: 101,701
Sept. 18, 2020 9:26a
loading...
/zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime
US : Dow Jones Global
27,901.98
-130.40 -0.47%
Volume: 439.89M
Sept. 17, 2020 5:14p
loading...

Rupert Steiner is Barron's Group bureau chief for the Europe, Middle East and Africa region.

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