September 23, 2020

Here’s the Government’s new measures to tackle coronavirus

At every stage of this pandemic we have struck a delicate balance between saving lives by protecting our NHS and minimising the wider impact of our restrictions.

It is because of the common sense and fortitude of the British people that earlier this year we were able to avert an even worse catastrophe. But we always knew that while we might have driven the virus into retreat, the prospect of a second wave was real. As in Spain and France and many other countries, we have reached a perilous turning point.

The Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance warned that the doubling rate for new cases could be between seven and 20 days and in the last fortnight, daily hospital admissions in England have more than doubled. The UK’s COVID alert level was raised from 3 to 4 yesterday meaning that transmission is high or rising exponentially.

So, this is the moment when we must act. If we can curb the number of daily infections, and reduce the R number to 1, then we can save lives, protect the NHS, and the most vulnerable, and shelter the economy from the far sterner and more costly measures that would inevitably become necessary later.

So now it falls to each and every one of us to remember the basics – wash our hands, cover our faces, observe social distancing – and follow the rules.  

Then we can fight back against this virus, shelter our economy from even greater damage, protect the most vulnerable in care homes and hospitals, safeguard our NHS and save many more lives.

What are the new restrictions being put in place?

  1. We are once again asking office workers who can work from home to do so. In key public services – and in all professions where homeworking is not possible, such as construction or retail – people should continue to attend their workplaces. The Government, Parliament as well as national and local government will be able to continue to take forward its business in a COVID-secure way and contribute to our national effort.
  2. From Thursday all pubs, bars and restaurants must operate table-service only, except for take-aways and together with all hospitality venues, they must close at 10pm. To help the police to enforce this rule, this means closing, not calling for last orders. The same will apply to takeaways - though deliveries can continue thereafter. We must act to stop the virus from being transmitted in bars and restaurants.
  3. We will extend the requirement to wear face coverings. This will include staff in retail, all users of taxis and private hire vehicles and staff and customers in indoor hospitality, except when seated at a table to eat or drink.
  4. In retail, leisure, tourism and other sectors, our COVID-secure guidelines will become legal obligations. Businesses will be fined and could be closed if they breach these rules.
  5. We will tighten up the rule of six. From Monday, a maximum of 15 people will be able to attend wedding ceremonies and receptions. However, up to 30 can still attend a funeral as now. We will also have to extend the rule of six to all adult indoor team sports.
  6. The spread of the virus is now affecting our ability to reopen business conferences, exhibitions and large sporting events so we will not be able to do this from 1 October. We recognise the implications for our sports clubs, the life and soul of our communities, and the Chancellor and Culture Secretary are working urgently on how we can support them.

This is not a return to the full lockdown in March. We are not issuing a general instruction to stay at home. We will ensure that schools, colleges and universities stay open - because nothing is more important than the education, health and well-being of our young people. We will ensure that businesses can stay open in a COVID-compliant way.

However, if all our actions fail to bring R below 1, then we reserve the right to deploy greater firepower, with significantly greater restrictions. We want to avoid taking this step, as do the Devolved Administrations, but we will only be able to avoid it if our new measures work and our behaviour changes.

We are tightening enforcement with higher penalties

We have already introduced a fine of up to £10,000 for those who fail to self-isolate and such fines will now be applied to businesses breaking COVID rules.

The penalty for failing to wear a mask or breaking the rule of six will now double to £200 for a first offence.

We will provide the police and local authorities with the extra funding they need, a greater police presence on our streets, and the option to draw on military support where required, such as to undertake office roles and guarding protected sites, to free up the police.

Hands, Face, Space: Wash your hands, cover your face, and make space

The medical advice on how to combat the coronavirus remains the same: wash your hands regularly, use a face covering when social distancing is not possible, and try to keep your distance from those not in your household.

It falls to each of us and every one of us to remember the basics – wash our hands, cover our faces, observe social distancing – and follow the rules.

After six months of following the rules, and six months of restrictions, it would be tempting to hope that the threat has faded.

However, as the Prime Minister outlined today, that complacency would be our undoing.

So we must all remember to continue following the guidance, so we can beat coronavirus, curb the number of daily infections, save lives, protect the NHS, and protect the most vulnerable.