Johnson begged people who could work from home to do so until the virus was under control. It’s been just a few weeks since the government launched a remarkable campaign encouraging people to return to office and work.
And he announced that face masks would be mandatory for staff and taxi passengers in the hospitality and retail sector. Masks are already required by public transport and store customers. Also, the duty to go will be a law, not a guideline.
Citizens and businesses who violate the rules will be fined. The government must provide additional police funding to help them enforce restrictions. Police may also request military assistance if they are overwhelmed. That doesn’t mean the army patrols the streets. Downing Street said the military could serve as an office, could be used to protect protected sites, and allowed police to force a virus response.
Johnson said the action could last for six months if things don’t improve, which meant for many families that large gatherings at Christmas could be impossible.
The new rule applies only to the UK. Health policy in the three other countries of the UK, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, is determined by the mandated administration. They are also expected to tighten restrictions in the future.
The announcement came at a critical time in the UK, which led to the first wave of Covid-19 leading to the most deaths among European countries and the worst recession in the major economy.
But what exactly needs to be done to tackle the UK’s massive coronavirus problem is a matter of intense political debate.
Johnson’s new move will offend his Conservative party lawmakers on both sides of the debate, including his cabinet.
The epidemic has revealed a split between those who believe the government should prioritize the UK economic recovery after GDP fell 20.4% in the second quarter of 2020, and those who believe the second wave of Corona 19 should be avoided.
High-ranking political parties fear that the long-term effects of economic damage and job loss will cost more than the virus itself. Those on the other side of the debate say the economic blow of the second short “circuit breaker” blockade is worth saving lives.
The relatively modest steps Johnson announced on Tuesday appears to be an attempt to appease both sides. The prime minister told Congress that he would not listen to those who want to “let the virus ripped” or “permanently shut down”.
Critics have already pointed out that the Johnson government has urged the United States to return to offices to save up-and-coming businesses such as sandwich shops and pubs that suffer from commuters’ daily trade shortages.
The government has also introduced a popular “Eat Out” plan that offers discounts of up to 50% per person to dine at restaurants that were forced to close due to the pandemic.
Johnson has faced some of the toughest months in his tough premier position.
Not long ago, public health experts talked about the real prospect of the second wave that the government should choose between bars and schools.
At the time, government officials said the frame was crude and the plague could not be viewed as a zero-sum game. They believed they could eat cake and eat it.
But as events increase and the country prepares for a harsh winter, Johnson may soon have to make choices that will soon be framed by economic versus public health, or individual freedom versus state blockade.
And that’s not the position they’ve been dreaming of for a progressive conservative prime minister in a small country.
Fix: In previous versions of this story, the time period for which the new restrictions apply was incorrect. The story has been updated to reflect that it could last for 6 months depending on the situation.