London may face a coronavirus lockdown similar to those seen in other European cities, as Boris Johnson warned the country he was prepared to take “further and faster measures” to tackle the disease.
While Downing Street is understood not to be planning to impose more stringent measures immediately, the prime minister said he would not hesitate to roll out tougher action to protect people’s health and NHS services when necessary, as officials reiterated the capital was ahead of other parts of the country in terms of the virus’ spread.
In his daily press conference, Johnson said: “We’ve always said we’re going to do the right measures at the right time.
“I think a lot of people are making a real heroic effort to comply with the advice that we have given but as I’ve said tonight and in the past few days we keep everything under continuous review and we will not hesitate to bring forward further and faster measures where we think that is necessary.”
It emerged on Wednesday that the Cabinet Office had written to Whitehall departments asking for their recommendations on stricter measures for the capital, in a “shielding plan for London”, where 953 people have been diagnosed with Covid-19 – nearly a third of the 2,626 UK total.
Johnson ended his briefing by repeating his warning that more stringent measures were still on the table. He said: “Absolutely we do not rule out … because it would be quite wrong to do so … we do not rule out taking further and faster measures in due course.”
His remarks came as Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, suggested the government was considering a far tougher strategy to deal with the coronavirus.
She attends the government’s regular emergency Cobra meetings and said she expected the UK government to announce “more stringent measures” for the capital, where the disease is spreading at a faster rate than the rest of the country.
Asked if he would introduce legislation to specifically reduce people’s movements, Johnson said it was not a natural choice for a government that valued liberty, but he ruled nothing out when the pandemic reached its peak.
One source with close knowledge of the capital’s response to the outbreak said any plans were not imminent and had not been discussed with key organisations who would have to be involved, such as the Metropolitan police, City Hall and those handling London’s response.
London has the highest level of infection and that rate is being monitored daily. The government is also getting daily figures on transport use in the capital. The Guardian understands the latest figures show a sharp drop, since the government urged people to stay home on Monday, with use of the tube network down almost 50% on its normal level and bus use down almost 40%.
In some European countries including Italy and France, people have been restricted to their houses and face a fine if they leave for any reason other than to buy food, visit the pharmacy or go to their job if they cannot work from home.
The British government has come under criticism for its failure to bring in mandatory social distancing measures to slow the spread of the virus, with Johnson saying on Monday only that people should avoid “non-essential contact”.
He told the press conference that people choosing to ignore the official advice could put others at risk as he ramped up his defence of government suggestions to avoid unnecessary gatherings and isolating at home if someone has symptoms.
He said: “The more closely and the more strictly, the more ruthlessly we can enforce upon ourselves, our families the advice that we’re getting… then the better we will be able to protect our NHS, the fewer deaths we will have and the less suffering there will be in the UK population and the faster we will get through this and the faster we will bounce back eventually. This is strong, strong advice.”
One source at City Hall said there had been no word of immediate action from No 10 on moving to far more strict measures on people’s movement.
“We’ve not been told anything at all about this yet, which would indicate there’s nothing due immediately. But we are ready to take what action is needed to protect the health of Londoners,” the source said.
Other sources said that with London confirmed as being more advanced than the rest of the UK in the spread of the disease, the general expectation was that new containment measures would be rolled out in the capital first.
Asked about the possibility of a lockdown for London, the prime minister’s official spokesman said the measures to protect people from coronavirus would be guided by scientific advice.
Source Website London could go into lockdown under tougher coronavirus measures | UK news