Britons told to stay apart or face curfews
The British government may need to impose curfews and travel restrictions to halt the spread of the coronavirus if people do not heed the official advice on social distancing, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned.
Pubs, clubs and gyms have already closed, but social media on Sunday was awash with pictures of people congregating in parks and food markets, apparently ignoring advice to stay two metres apart.
Parks in London are already closing down as authorities struggle to slow the advance of coronavirus through the population, the biggest public health crisis since the influenza pandemic of 1918.
So far 281 Britons have died from coronavirus.
The spiralling number of infections means Johnson is in a race against time to prevent a repeat of the tragedy in other countries, including Italy, where the death toll reached 5476 on Sunday.
"Stay two metres apart. It's not such a difficult thing. Do it," Johnson said at a news briefing on Sunday.
"Otherwise ... there is going to be no doubt that we will have to bring forward further measures and we are certainly keeping that under constant review."
Johnson said tougher measures such as curfews needed to be timed right for maximum impact.
"After all, when the epidemic is hardly spreading at all that's not the moment to impose curfews and prohibitions on movement and so on and so forth," he said.
"You've got to wait until, alas, it's the right moment to do it and that's always been how we've been guided."
The latest official statistics show the number of confirmed coronavirus cases rose to 5683 on Sunday, up from 5018 on Saturday - a more rapid increase than in either China or Italy at the same stage, according to a Sky News analysis.
Speaking alongside Johnson, communities minister Robert Jenrick said the government will write to 1.5 million of its most vulnerable citizens to demand they stay at home for the next 12 weeks to shield themselves from the virus.
Johnson, who has asked British manufacturers to produce ventilators for coronavirus sufferers at short notice, said "far, far more" would be needed.
Around 12 per cent of adult critical care beds in hospitals in England are occupied by patients with COVID-19, England's deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries said while speaking alongside Johnson.
"That will change drastically as we go through the epidemic," she added.
Originally published as Britons told to stay apart or face curfews