British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the military could be deployed in England to help with the enforcement of new coronavirus restrictions.
Speaking to U.K. lawmakers on Tuesday, the prime minister said there would now be “greater police presence” on the streets with “the option to draw on military support where required.”
The move come after the government’s chief scientific and medical advisers warned there could be 50,000 U.K. cases a day by mid-October, with a daily death toll of 200 or more by mid-November if the current growth in the rate of infection is not halted.
The U.K. already has the biggest official COVID-19 death toll in Europe — and the fifth largest in the world.
Johnson announced there would also be “tighter” enforcement of the new rules, as the fine for not wearing a face mask will rise to £200 (about $250).
The prime minister also ripped up his push to persuade people to go back to their offices and told the public to work from home if they can.
“No British government would wish to stifle our freedoms in the ways that we have found necessary this year,” he said. “So it now 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.”
Under the new measures, pubs, bars and restaurants in England will have to close by 10 p.m. each night and must operate as table service only from Thursday.
“What we have seen from the evidence is that alas the spread of the disease does tend to happen later at night after more alcohol has been consumed,” Johnson told the U.K parliament.
Face masks will become compulsory for bar staff, shop workers, waiters and taxi drivers.
Businesses will be fined and could even be be closed if they breach the rules.
The number of people who can attend weddings will be halved, from 30 to 15.
A plan to allow small crowds to sports stadiums has been suspended.
Johnson said that the restrictions announced could remain in place for “perhaps six months.”
“For the time being, this virus is a fact of our lives, and I must tell [Parliament] and the country that our fight against it will continue,” he said.
The prime minister’s spokesperson said the military could be used to backfill certain police duties, such as office roles and guarding protected sites, so police officers can be out enforcing the virus response.
“This is not about providing any additional powers to the military, or them replacing the police in enforcement roles, and they will not be handing out fines. It is about freeing up more police officers,” the spokesperson said.
Johnson sad MPs will have the opportunity to debate the new coronavirus measures next week.
The opposition Labour leader, Keir Starmer, said Johnson was “right” to announce further measures. “We support those measures,” he said.
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