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Labour demands Boris Johnson shift to ‘enforced social distancing’ amid ‘widespread’ defiance of coronavirus guidance

Labour also wants the Government to step up its public messaging about the coronavirus outbreak

3 min read

Labour has called on Boris Johnson to enforce a clampdown on people’s movements in a bid to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth urged the Prime Minister - who has already ordered the closure of a string of places where people gather - to switch to “enforced social distancing” amid what it called “widespread non-compliance” with the Governemnt’s advice.

Meanwhile Labour leadership frontrunner Sir Keir Starmer said ministers would have to “explain why” if they did not choose to switch to the kind of lockdowns seen in other European countries.

Mr Johnson on Sunday made clear he was prepared to order a UK-wide lockdown unless Brits began following strict measures designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The Prime Minister issued the warning after a weekend in which crowds continued to flock to parks and beaches across the country, despite health officials urging people to stay indoors. 

The Government has already ordered the closure of pubs, clubs, cafes, cinemas, theatres, gyms and leisure centres in an attempt to discourage large gatherings - but has stopped short of policing the movement of Brits to halt the outbreak amid fears the public could soon tire of draconian measures.

Fresh guidance issued overnight called on the public to stop travelling to holiday homes and warned such trips could pile pressure on already-stretched local services.

But Mr Ashworth has demanded that the Government goes further.

The Shadow Health Secretary said: “Labour will continue to try to support the Government’s response to the coronavirus emergency as best we can. 

“But after another weekend of apparent public confusion and widespread non-compliance with 'social distancing', of grave scientific warnings and brave medical professionals talking of being sent to work like 'lambs to the slaughter' with inadequate protective equipment, something has to change.”

He added: "Other countries have taken further far-reaching social distancing measures. We now call on the Government to move to enforced social distancing and greater social protection as a matter of urgency.

"The Prime Minister must outline further necessary steps the government will now take to keep people safe, protect our NHS and save lives."

And Sir Keir said, who is the bookies’ favourite to succeed Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader next month, said the Government “must now set out further compliance measures, such as those introduced in other countries”.

The Shadow Brexit Secretary added: “These are vital days in the battle against the coronavirus. Any additional measures should sit alongside a national plan of action to support people to cope, including the most vulnerable and the self-employed.

“Ministers should provide an update on this at this afternoon’s press conference and if they choose not to implement additional measures, then they should explain why.

“These decisions are not easily made, but they are now necessary. We all have a duty to do what we can to protect the nation’s health and to save people’s lives. I hope the Government will act.”

Mr Johnson is expected to give a further update on efforts to contain the virus on Monday afternoon.

And his spokesperson suggested a further crackdown was on the cards if people refused to stay at home.

“From the very beginning, we've taken decisions based on scientific and medical advice,” the Number 10 spokesperson said.

They added: “Our message is very clear: people should stay at home if possible. This will save lives, protect the vulnerable and support the NHS. 

“If people are going out and socialising when they don't need to they are putting people's lives at risk. If information we're getting shows that social interaction hasn't stopped, then we will need to take further measures.”

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