UK to Impose Tougher COVID-19 Measures Amid Case Spike

Shoppers wear masks on Oxford Street in London, Monday, Sept. 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to announce new restrictions on social interactions Tuesday as the government tries to slow the spread of COVID-19 before it spirals out of control.

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove told Sky News that pubs and restaurants across England will be ordered to close at 10 p.m. and people who can work from home will be encouraged to do so, reversing a government drive to get people back to their offices and other places of employment.

Gove said reducing “social mixing” was key to slowing the spread of the virus. He said it was impossible to say how long the restrictions would be in place.

“What we hope is we can take appropriate steps now, which mean that if we succeed in beating back the virus, then we will in the future be able to progressively relax them,” Gove told the BBC. “But what I can’t do is predict with absolute certainty.”

The prime minister is set to release further details when he speaks to the House of Commons at around 12:30 p.m. (1130 GMT) after meeting the Cabinet and the government’s COBRA emergency committee. He will later deliver a televised address to the nation.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson walks back into Downing Street after attending a cabinet meeting at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Plans to have spectators return to sports stadiums are also likely to be put on hold as part of the new restrictions.

The news comes a day after the British government’s top scientific and medical advisers said coronavirus infections were doubling every seven days and could rise to 49,000 a day by mid-October if nothing is done to stem the tide. On Monday, the government reported 4,300 new confirmed cases, the highest number since May.

The U.K. has gradually been increasing restrictions as cases rise, including barring people from meeting in large groups. But the measures are likely to be far less stringent than a nationwide lockdown imposed in March that confined most of the population and closed most businesses. The lockdown was eased starting in June as cases began to fall, but that trend has now been reversed.

Some lawmakers from the governing Conservative Party are uneasy about the move to tighten restrictions on business and daily life, citing the impact on an already-reeling economy and the curbing of civil liberties.

Employers and workers in hospitality businesses are also concerned.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade body UKHospitality said the planned restrictions were “another crushing blow” for many businesses.

But most epidemiologists believe restrictions are again necessary and worry that what the government plans to announce may not go far enough.