POLITICS
18/03/2020 17:49 GMT | Updated 19/03/2020 08:04 GMT

Boris Johnson Fails To Rule Out Shutting Down London To Tackle Coronavirus

Prime minister announces he could take "further and faster measures" – but suggests "game changer" new test could be on its way to see who has had Covid-19.

 

Update: See the latest stories on the coronavirus outbreak.

Boris Johnson has failed to rule out shutting down London to tackle the coronavirus outbreak.

The prime minister said on Wednesday that while British people ”live in a land of liberty” he would “rule nothing out”.

Johnson said he would bring forward “further and faster measures” if it was “necessary to suppress the peak” of the infection.

Asked at a press conference in Downing Street whether and when the government would impose “wider enforcement to shut down London properly”, Johnson said the government would “do the right measures at the right time”.

He added: “We keep everything under continuous review.”

On Monday, Johnson said London was “a few weeks ahead” of the rest of the country when it came to the spread of the virus.

The PM said people in the capital should pay special attention to social distancing, including by home working and staying away from pubs and restaurants.

But there is evidence that many Londoners are failing to follow the social distancing advice, with reports of busy Underground trains and pubs.

Johnson declined to call people “immoral” for not heeding the advice, as suggested by one reporter at the press conference, saying: “Of course people must make their own decisions, I’m a believer, as I say, in freedom.

“But let’s be absolutely in no doubt that these are very, very important choices that we are now making in our daily lives and the more closely and the more strictly, more ruthlessly, we can enforce upon ourselves, our families, the advice we are getting, then the better we will be able to protect our NHS, the fewer deaths we will have, and the less suffering there will be in the UK population.

“And the faster we will get through this and the better we will bounce back eventually.”

On putting London on lockdown, he added: “We do not rule out, because it would be quite wrong to do so, taking further and faster measures in due course.”

London City Hall sources told HuffPost UK the government had not revealed to them any plans for a lockdown of the capital.

It is understood that the government will not need to take new powers to enforce a lockdown and it could be done without the emergency legislation being introduced to the Commons on Thursday, which is expected to pass next week.

It came as Transport for London (TfL) announced a greatly reduced service to be phased in over the coming days which will include the closure of up to 40 stations with no interchange from Friday.

The Waterloo and City line will close down, as will the night tube on Fridays and Saturdays.

From Monday TfL will gradually reduce the frequency of other services, while ensuring critical workers to get around the city.

Bus services will also be cut down to a Saturday-like service every day although night buses will continue to run for critical workers.

 

 

New test ‘game-changer’

Johnson meanwhile said a “game-changer” test to determine whether an individual has developed antibodies to tackle the coronavirus is “coming down the track” and could give people the “green light” to return to work or social activities.

The government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said: “That’s progressing very fast. Public Health England are looking at this today. They’ve got a test in house they’ve got going and we’re looking at ways of getting the much more widespread version out.

“Going forward it’s going to be critically important to be able to monitor this disease well because only by being able to monitor it can we start relaxing measures again.”

The PM added: “The great thing about having a test to see whether you’ve had it enough is suddenly a green light goes on above your head and you can go back to work in the safe and confident in the knowledge that you are most unlikely to get it again.

“So for an economic point of view, from a social point of view, it really could be a game-changer.

“You can really see the potential of that advance, which, as I say, is coming down the track.”