Boris Johnson under pressure to order coronavirus lockdown as public ignore advice

PUBLISHED: 10:17 23 March 2020 | UPDATED: 10:17 23 March 2020

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a media briefing in Downing Street. Photograph: Ian Vogler/Daily Mirror/PA Wire.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a media briefing in Downing Street. Photograph: Ian Vogler/Daily Mirror/PA Wire.

Ian Vogler

Boris Johnson is under mounting pressure to order a widespread lockdown to slow the coronavirus pandemic after thousands ignored his advice.

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There are growing fears that Britain is on a similar trajectory to Italy - scene of the world’s worst outbreak - where the death toll passed 5,000 over the weekend.

The Italian government was one of a number of European countries to announce new or extended restrictions - with Germany banning public gatherings of more than two people not from the same household.

It comes as health secretary Matt Hancock has admitted there have been “challenges” with the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) to frontline NHS staff after a doctors’ leader said they felt they were being treated like “cannon fodder”.

Johnson has warned that the NHS could be “overwhelmed” in the same way as the Italian healthcare system has been, if the the spread of the virus in the UK is not curbed.

But at his daily No 10 press conference on Sunday, Johnson indicated he was reluctant to ban people from going outside for a walk or to exercise because of the physical and mental health benefits, as long as they acted responsibly.

The government later issued updated guidance making clear that essential travel did not include visits to “second homes, camp sites, caravan parks or similar, whether for isolation purposes or holidays”.

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However among some MPs there was a clear mood for firmer action amid fears that further delay would cost lives.


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Julian Smith, the former Northern Ireland secretary, said: “Many people have recklessly ignored government advice this weekend.

“I will support any measure the government needs to force people to follow the guidelines designed to protect NHS staff and UK citizens’ lives.”

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “We urge the government to make immediate preparations for the next stage and learn lessons from other European nations.

“If voluntary social distancing measures are not adhered to, the government must bring forward their plans for stronger action.”

Labour MP Rosena Allin-Khan, who also works as an A&E doctor at St George’s Hospital in south London, also bitterly attacked the government’s approach.

She said her latest shift had been a “deeply, deeply eye-opening” experience with previously fit and healthy people in their 30s and 40s “attached to machines, fighting for their lives”.

“The prime minister has been blase about this from the start, waiting for others to make decisions so he doesn’t have to. It is costing lives,” she said.

“Enough is enough. The NHS cannot cope and it won’t be long before doctors have to choose between who lives and who dies.”

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