Coronavirus: What are the new restrictions and why are they needed?


A deserted Westminster Bridge is pictured looking north

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A series of strict new measures to fight the coronavirus outbreak have been announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

In a televised address, he said a “moment of national emergency” meant staying at home was necessary to protect the NHS and save lives.

When are people allowed to leave their homes?

Mr Johnson said people would only be allowed to leave their homes for specific reasons:

  • Shopping for “basic necessities”, as infrequently as possible. People should use delivery services, where they can
  • Medical reasons, to provide care, or to help a vulnerable person
  • Travelling to and from work, but only if it is “absolutely necessary”

People are also being told not to meet friends or family members who do not live with them.

What other new measures are there?

The prime minister said:

  • Shops selling “non-essential goods” including clothes and electronics stores will be closed immediately
  • Libraries, playgrounds, outdoor gyms and places of worship will also close
  • Gatherings of more than two people (excluding people who live together) will be banned
  • There will be no weddings or baptisms but funerals will be allowed
  • Parks will remain open but people are only to go out to exercise once a day

All of the new measures will last for three weeks from 23 March before being reviewed.

How will the measures be enforced?

The police will be given the powers to make sure people follow the measures – by dispersing groups and issuing fines.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council told the BBC that officers would be talking to people and explaining why shouldn’t they be out.

If they do not accept the advice, they would then be given a fine. However, fines won’t be issued until Parliament passes the emergency legislation – which should be by the end of Thursday.

The Home Office could not say, at this stage, how big the fines are likely to be.

What about non-food shops and laundrettes?

Some other types of non-food retailers are also allowed to stay open, according to government guidance:

  • Pharmacies
  • Petrol stations
  • Bicycle shops, home and hardware shops
  • Car rentals
  • Pet shops
  • Corner shops and newsagents
  • Post offices
  • Banks

Laundrettes and dry cleaners have been given an exception and are allowed to remain open. If a customers visits one, they need to ensure they stick to the social distancing rules.

What about online deliveries?

Customers should still be able to receive deliveries placed online.

Amazon said there would be some changes, with essential items (like food and healthcare products) being prioritised. That means that delivery times for other items may take longer than usual.

Its drivers have been advised to place packages at the customer’s doorstep and step back, in order to avoid any unnecessary contact.

The Royal Mail is still operating its service for parcels and letters, but with some delays and alterations.

To help safeguard care home residents, deliveries are being made to a central point, such as reception, rather than to individual addresses.

Royal Mail says it is working with its airline, postal and courier partners across the world to maintain global deliveries.

What about parents who live in separate places?

Parents who live separately will also be allowed to move children under 18 between their houses, according to Cabinet minister Michael Gove.

What about takeaways?

People can still use takeaway shops and delivery companies, according to the government’s guidance.

However, customers must not eat or drink while waiting for their food.

Despite being allowed to remain open, some food retailers have still decided to close – including Greggs and McDonalds.

Is exercise allowed?

People are still allowed to go outside for exercise – including walking, running or cycling.

However, this can only be done on your own, or with the people you live with.

Mr Gove says this should be your “standard length” of exercise and only once a day.

Can I still take my car for an MOT?

Garages are allowed to remain open under the new restrictions.

MOTs for lorries, buses and trailers have already been suspended for up to three months. The government says these vehicles must be maintained and kept roadworthy.

MOTs for cars, motorcycles and light vans are under review.

Driving tests in England, Scotland and Wales have been suspended for up to three months from 21 March 2020, except for critical workers. All practical driving tests are suspended in Northern Ireland until 22 June 2020.

Why are tougher restrictions being introduced?

The government had already told people that to prevent the spread of coronavirus they should only go out when necessary – for example, to buy food and medicine, or for exercise.

When out, people have been told to keep at least 2m (6ft) apart from other people. This is known as social distancing.

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Clapham Common in London was among the parks across the UK busy over the weekend

However, since this advice was issued, there have been many examples of people not following it.

At the weekend, parks and open spaces were packed with people. Snowdonia National Park, for example, said it had experienced the “busiest ever visitor day in living memory”.

And with the reduction in train services across the UK and tube trains on the London Underground, passengers on their way to work were crowded together on Monday.

What has the UK already done?

People had already been urged to work from home where possible, and not to visit pubs, restaurants, cafes, theatres and other venues.

Last Friday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that these places should all close, although takeaways could still offer a service.

Schools also shut on Friday, although some have been kept open to provide a service for the children of key workers, such as NHS staff.

Why do people need to stay apart?

Coronavirus spreads when an infected person coughs small droplets into the air. These can be breathed in, or cause an infection if you touch a surface they have landed on, and then touch your face with unwashed hands.


How does the UK compare to other countries?

Many countries have already imposed severe restrictions on their populations.

  • The whole of Italy has been on lockdown since 9 March, with people only allowed out if strictly necessary
  • Meetings of more than two have been banned in Germany. One German state, Bavaria, has implemented a full lockdown for its citizens
  • More and more US states have introduced severe restrictions, with one in three Americans now being told not to leave home
  • Australia has shut down non-essential services, although schools remain open in some states


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