Boris Johnson faces massive pressure to impose a European-style lockdown to avert coronavirus disaster today as people continue to flout government guidance.
Demands are growing for the PM to ramp up controls after extraordinary images emerged this morning of still-packed Tube trains in London – regarded as the engine of the UK outbreak.
After a weekend in which crowds flocked to parks and landmarks to take advantage of sunshine, Mr Johnson effectively put the nation on its final warning last night, saying there should be ‘no doubt’ he would take draconian action.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock underlined this morning that a decision is expected ‘very soon’, hitting out at ‘selfish’ behaviour and saying ‘nothing is off the table’.
He pointed to measures in Italy and France – where all municipal spaces have been closed, forms have to be filled out to leave the house, and police are on patrol handing out fines.
But Mr Hancock was embroiled in a furious spat with Piers Morgan after accusing the ITV Good Morning Britain host of spreading ‘tittle tattle’ over infighting within the government. Morgan retorted: ‘How dare you!’
The backlash was mounting against Mr Johnson’s ‘relaxed’ style today, with warnings of a ‘full-scale mutiny’ among Cabinet if the lockdown is not extended, and Labour claiming his ‘mixed messages will cost lives’.
Downing Street today dodged questions about the prospect of a mutiny, and said it was looking at evidence to decide whether social distancing must be enforced. ‘If our analysis is that people haven’t stopped their interaction then we will take further measures,’ the PM’s spokesman said.
Labour’s official position has shifted to insist it is time to introduce harsher ‘compliance measures’.
Traffic monitoring has suggested the capital is still running at a third of its normal rate, far higher than other European capitals.
Brutal restrictions appear to be looming as the UK death toll jumped to 289, with Wales and Scotland each announcing four more fatalities.
In other major developments today:
- The government has suspended rail franchises to maintain services, as operators faced collapse with passenger numbers tumbling;
- Mr Hancock has insisted he will ensure that NHS staff get all the personal protection equipment they need, amid fear they are currently ‘lambs to the slaughter’ when treating patients;
- The government has formally warned Britons flocking to campsites and holiday homes away from cities that it does not count as ‘essential travel;
- Chancellor Rishi Sunak is preparing a fresh economic bailout for five-million self-employed amid warnings thousands of sole traders will not survive the crisis;
- The children of coronavirus key workers including firefighters have been turned away at the school gates while parents who fail to meet the criteria have verbally abused teachers and threatened to sue;
- The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett, has said no new trials will start and that ongoing trials will be paused while arrangements are put in place so they can continue safely;
- Health minister Nadine Dorries, the first MP confirmed with coronavirus, has returned to work after recovering from the illness;
- The government is pushing emergency legislation through the Commons today, but Tory and Labour MPs have secured more checks on the measures including a fresh vote in six months;
- Research has suggested that the government’s current policy could still result in up to 70,000 deaths from coronavirus;
In a tough message to the public from Downing Street this afternoon, Mr Johnson said: ‘Even if you think you are personally invulnerable, there are plenty of people you can infect
Extraordinary images from London – regarded by experts as the engine of the UK’s outbreak – showed Tube trains still rammed this morning
Health Secretary Matt Hancock underlined this morning that a decision is expected ‘very soon’, hitting out at ‘selfish’ behaviour and saying ‘nothing is off the table’
There were still plenty of people out and about in Regent’s Park today, with some wearing elaborate masks
Runners and dog walkers were out in force in London’s Richmond Park today, but they did appear to be more in line with the government’s social distancing rules
Wales has now recorded a total of 16 deaths from the killer virus, the second highest in the UK outside of England.
Fourteen patients have succumbed to the illness in Scotland, meanwhile Northern Ireland has reported just two.
The latest figure for England is 257, although tens more fatalities are expected to be announced this afternoon.
There are 5,687 confirmed coronavirus cases, but experts say the true number is more than 300,000 because the Government is only testing people hospitalised by the disease.
For every death there are thought to be roughly 1,000 more cases of the virus.
There were appalling scenes over the weekend as Britons across the UK flocked to beaches and parks up and down the country to take a stroll with their loved ones for Mother’s Day, despite Mr Johnson urging families to stay apart and meet via Skype or other remote communications.
In explosive clashes with Mr Hancock on ITV today, Piers Morgan demanded to know why the PM was not already ‘locking down the country’.
The presenter said: ‘Your strategy has not been the same all along…it changed dramatically. Herd immunity was the strategy then dramatically, it changed. So please don’t insult my intelligence by telling me we followed the same strategy – we haven’t.’
Mr Hancock insisted: ‘Herd immunity has never been the strategy, as I’ve made clear repeatedly.’
But Morgan went on: ‘I’m seeing the leader of this country refusing to take draconian measures to lock down the country when almost every other country has done so.
‘He believes that it’s wrong to remove people’s liberty. I couldn’t give a stuff. I think that you think we should be locked down, don’t you?’
Mr Hancock said: ‘People need to stay more than two metres apart from people who aren’t in their household and if that isn’t followed we are going to have to take more draconian measures as we have been prepared to. I’m working every hour that there is to protect people. I am not going to get into the tittle tattle that you’re talking about.’
But the angry presenter said: ‘Tittle tattle – how dare you. You think what I’m saying is tittle tattle.’
In a tough message to the public from Downing Street last night, Mr Johnson said that even though he understood the physical and mental health benefits of open spaces, he would take drastic steps to protect health.
He suggested the UK could copy some of the more extreme lockdowns in other parts of Europe, such as Italy and France.
‘I don’t think you need to use your imagination much to see where we might have to go,’ he said.
‘We will think about this very, very actively in the next 24 hours.
‘We need to think about the kinds of measures that we have seen elsewhere, other countries that have been forced to bring in restrictions on people’s movements altogether.
‘I don’t want to do that because I have tried to explain the public health benefits.’
‘Even if you think you are personally invulnerable, there are plenty of people you can infect,’ he said.
‘Take this advice seriously. Follow it. Because it is absolutely crucial.
‘We will keep the implementation of these measures under review… and of course we will bring forward further measures if it is necessary.’
Hammering home the point, he added: ‘If people cannot make use of parks and playgrounds responsibly, in a way that observes the two-metre rule, then of course we are going to have to look at further measures.’
The escalation is looking increasingly likely as Tory pressure grows for tougher action.
One source told Buzzfeed that the mood among Cabinet ministers and senior advisers would be ‘full scale mutiny’ if he does not upgrade the response.
Mr Hancock warned today that the behaviour of a minority of the public was ‘selfish’.
‘We have been really clear in the actions that we have taken,’ he said. ‘We have demonstrated if we need to that we are willing to take more action.’
Asked about measures such as bans in Germany on public gatherings of more than two people, ‘Nothing is off the table. Of course we are looking at what other European countries are doing.’
Mr Hancock said he accepted the police might need to be deployed to enforce such measures. ‘These are unpleasant and very difficult times,’ he said.
He said other European countries were further along the curve of the outbreak, but added: ‘That means we can act sooner and earlier in this crisis.’
Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said: ‘Labour will continue to try to support the government’s response to the coronavirus emergency as best we can.
There were still huge queues outside Costco in Thurrock today, despite assurances that food supplies are not running out
‘But after another weekend of apparent public confusion and widespread non-compliance with ‘social distancing’, of grave scientific warnings and brave medical professionals talking of being sent to work like ‘lambs to the slaughter’ with inadequate protective equipment, something has to change.
‘Other countries have taken further far reaching social distancing measures. We now call on the government to move to enforced social distancing and greater social protection as a matter of urgency.’
Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said: ‘We are entering a new phase of this outbreak and the Government urgently needs to move to a new policy. We have had too many mixed and confusing messages. Absolute clarity is now needed.’
Rosena Allin-Khan, the Labour deputy leadership candidate and practising doctor, said Boris Johnson’s ‘relaxed’ approach to coronavirus could cost lives.
The Tooting MP told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘If we look at the fact that we are two weeks behind Italy, we are headed for a disaster if people do not heed the social distancing measures.
‘The Prime Minister simply said yesterday he wants people to enjoy themselves outside while also saying that people should stay two metres apart outdoors.
‘This relaxed style, mixed messaging will cost lives and I believe people are struggling to follow guidelines because they are just not clear.’
The emergency department doctor confirmed she would support a ‘full lockdown’ if that was proven to be the way to save lives.
In Dorset many strolled across the sands while others thought nothing of going for a dip in the sea this afternoon.
London has begun to shut its public parks after thousands of people flaunted coronavirus social distancing rules at the weekend.
Hammersmith and Fulham Council has become the first local authority in the UK to close all of its parks after they were ‘full of people’ on Saturday and Sunday.
Meanwhile, The Royal Parks which runs numerous public spaces in the capital including Hyde Park, Regent’s Park and Richmond Park has threatened to shut all of its gates unless people follow social distancing guidelines.
The government has advised against all non-essential travel and social contact with those who do go outside for exercise told to stay at least two metres away from other people.
Key workers were still able to take their children to school today, even though they have been shut for most people
Passengers squeeze on to a busy Central Line underground train at Stratford station, east London today
NHS England chief Sir Simon Stevens (left) and Chief medical officer Chris Whitty (right) were in Downing Street today as ministers considering tightening the UK lockdown
No10 chief Dominic Cummings leaving his London home this morning as the coronavirus crisis gathers pace
Ministers have put in place the guidance in a desperate bid to slow the spread of the deadly disease.
But there are growing fears some people are failing to take the outbreak seriously enough as they continue to meet up in groups and stand too close to each other.
The start of the parks shutdown came as the government updated domestic travel advice to tell people not to visit second homes, holiday homes, campsites or caravan parks.
Ministers said people should not visit those places either for self-isolation or for a holiday because doing so would place unnecessary strain on rural communities.
The children of coronavirus key workers including firefighters have been turned away at the school gates while parents who fail to meet the criteria have verbally abused teachers and threatened to sue, it was revealed today.
Headteachers have been ‘overwhelmed’ by applications and education experts believe the parents of two million pupils – a quarter of the total UK school population – have asked for emergency places.
Schools ordered to close for up to six months on Friday have reopened to care for children whose parents’ work is ‘critical’ to the fight against coronavirus, which has killed 281 in the UK so far.
But genuine key workers have already been turned away, with firefighter Mark Atkinson tweeting the Government this morning: ‘I’m a key worker and my child was refused entry to school today. Does the school have the right to refuse?’
However, where school staff have asked for proof from parents who fail to meet the criteria there have also been ugly scenes at the school gates this morning, MailOnline can reveal.
One man, whose wife is a school teacher, wrote on social media today: ‘My wife and her colleagues have been verbally abused by parents of non key workers demanding their children are in school’.
Teachers have revealed that nail bar workers, mobile hairdressers as well as McDonald’s and KFC workers have asked for spaces for their children claiming their work is crucial to keeping the country running.
Others wanted their offspring at school because they ‘can’t cope with their kids at home for five days a week’ because they need ‘peace and quiet’.
Nicola Sturgeon warned Scotland that life ‘shouldn’t feel normal right now’ as she blasted people who were endangering lives by flouting anti-coronavirus measures.
At a press conference today, the Scottish First Minister said: ‘If life is carrying on as normal then you are not doing the right thing.’
Ms Sturgeon said that pubs and restaurants still open faced being forcibly closed.
‘We will within days have emergency powers and we will use them,’ she said.
Ms Sturgeon said shops not providing essential items like food and medicines should close now.
And in a message for employers in non-essential services, she said: ‘It was clear this morning that there are too many people across country who are being expect to go to work as normal.’
The Government has announced it will add a six-month renewal clause as part of its emergency powers designed to tackle the spread of coronavirus.
MPs are due to debate and sign off on strict measures that would grant ministers, councils, police, health professionals and coroners increased controls that are due to last for up to two years.
Changes include reducing the number of doctors required to sign off on sectioning those with mental health issues from two to one, while police would be given authority to force those infected with Covid-19 to self-isolate.
But a former Cabinet minister is calling for Boris Johnson to go further by introducing a rewritten Bill in 12 months’ time if the powers are still deemed necessary.
David Davis, the ex-Brexit secretary, said six-monthly reviews were not sufficient to keep such wide-reaching legislation in check and predicted there were likely to be ‘mistakes’ in the 300-plus pages of emergency legislation.
Downing Street has confirmed the Government will introduce an amendment to the Coronavirus Bill on Monday to ensure the fresh powers within it had to be renewed every six months.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘The measures in the Bill are temporary, proportionate to the threat we face, and will only be used when strictly necessary.
‘However we recognise the importance of parliamentary scrutiny and have heard concerns about the need for periodic reviews of the powers in the Bill.’
Pen y Pass near Llanberis in Gwynedd on Sunday morning as visitors ignore requests to stay away on Snowdonia today
Oh I do like to be beside the seaside! Visitors continued to flock to seaside resorts today including this one in West Bay, Dorset
People packed Bournemouth esplanade yesterday. Paddle boarders and swimmers braved the cold temperatures despite fears over the global coronavirus outbreak
Ministers move to ‘renationalise’ rail network: Government steps in to underwrite train firms amid fears coronavirus crisis could mean key services collapse
The Government moved to take emergency control of the rail network today to avoid a total collapse caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Department for Transport (DfT) said it was suspending franchises for six months in order to ‘minimise disruption to the rail sector’, safeguard jobs and allow key workers to move around.
Since Boris Johnson told the public to work at home if they could last week, widespread parts of the network have seen a collapse in commuter numbers, with operators already running reduced services.
The DfT today said it would offer them the chance to transfer all revenue and cost risk to the Government, and be paid a small management fee to run services.
Industry body the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) said it ‘strongly welcomes’ the proposal, which stops short of a full nationalisation of the railways.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: ‘We are taking this action to protect the key workers who depend on our railways to carry on their vital roles, the hardworking commuters who have radically altered their lives to combat the spread of coronavirus, and the frontline rail staff who are keeping the country moving.
The DfT said figures showed passenger numbers have fallen by up to 70 per cent, while ticket sales are down by two-thirds. Pictured is Euston station in London
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: ‘We are taking this action to protect the key workers who depend on our railways to carry on their vital roles, the hardworking commuters who have radically altered their lives to combat the spread of coronavirus, and the frontline rail staff who are keeping the country moving’
‘People deserve certainty that the services they need will run or that their job is not at risk in these unprecedented times.
‘We are also helping passengers get refunds on Advance tickets to ensure no-one is unfairly out of pocket for doing the right thing.
‘These offers will give operators the confidence and certainty so they can play their part in the national interest.’
Allowing operators to enter insolvency would cause ‘significantly more disruption to passengers and higher costs to the taxpayer’, the DfT said.
It said figures showed passenger numbers have fallen by up to 70 per cent, while ticket sales are down by two-thirds.
Rail timetables have been slashed because of Covid-19.
Anyone holding an Advance ticket will be able to get a refund free of charge, while administrative fees have been waived for season ticket refunds.
The terms and conditions of employment for rail workers will not change.
The department said the maximum fee given by the Government to train operators would be 2 per cent of the value of a franchise before the Covid-19 pandemic began.
It is intended to incentivise companies to meet performance targets, and will be ‘far less than recent profits earned by train operators’.
Andy McDonald, the shadow transport secretary: ‘Labour backs measures that will keep key workers and freight moving on our railway during this crisis.
‘There are very few emergency options available in these most difficult of circumstances.
The imperative is to maintain a functioning rail network throughout this emergency.’
The DfT added that the Government-controlled Operator of Last Resort (OLR) ‘stands ready to step in’ for operators which do not accept the emergency measures.
This would effectively mean nationalising franchises.
The OLR already runs Northern and LNER.
RDG chief executive Paul Plummer said: ‘The industry strongly welcomes the Department for Transport’s offer of temporary support and, while we need to finalise the details, this will ensure that train companies can focus all their efforts on delivering a vital service at a time of national need.’
Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said: ‘Labour backs measures that will keep key workers and freight moving on our railway during this crisis.
‘There are very few emergency options available in these most difficult of circumstances.’