LONDON — Boris Johnson ordered pubs and restaurants to close in the U.K. and urged members of the public to remain indoors to avoid the spread of the coronavirus.
The prime minister said he was “telling” outlets, including cafés and bars, to “close tonight as soon as they reasonably can” and not open on Saturday. Chancellor Rishi Sunak appeared alongside Johnson at a press conference in Downing Street to announce a package of support for employees.
The government was urged to take a harder line on hospitality outlets after members of the public ignored calls to implement social distancing measures and remain at home.
Johnson urged Brits to “please” not go out on Friday night. “You may think you are invincible but there is no guarantee that you will [not] get mild symptoms and you can still be a carrier of the disease and pass it on to others,” he said. But he did not say pubs and restaurants would face penalties if they failed to follow the rules, after other nations looking to lock down their cities took a harder line.
Johnson said he understood the shutdown measures were “extraordinary.”
“We’re taking way the ancient, inalienable right of free-born people of the United Kingdom to go the pub,” he said. “And I can understand how people feel about that. But I say to people who go against the advice … you’re not only putting your own life and the lives of your family at risk, you’re endangering the community.”
The announcement came after Public Health England said 177 people in the U.K. had died from the disease as of Friday, up 33 from the day before.
Sunak said the government would cover 80 percent of the wages of workers who would otherwise lose their jobs. Under the scheme, employers will be able to claim a grant to cover wages, of up to £2,500 a month per worker. “I am placing no limit on the amount of funding available for the scheme,” he added.
The chancellor said the loans he previously announced for businesses, worth billions of pounds, would be available from Monday, and firms would not have to pay interest on them for a year, up from the six months announced earlier this week. Meanwhile, businesses will not have to pay VAT until the end of June, and would have until the end of the financial year to repay it.
He also announced almost £7 billion extra in welfare increases for people who do end up losing their jobs, and he said renters would be entitled to increases in housing benefit.
The new measures to increase welfare support include an increase in standard allowance under the Universal Credit scheme by £1,000 a year. Tax credit payments for those in work will increase by the same amount. Sunak said the measures would benefit more than four million households in the U.K.
Self-employed people would also now be able to access the Universal Credit welfare scheme at a rate equivalent to Statutory Sick Pay guarantees employed workers, he said.
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, said the chancellor’s plan was a “breakthrough.”
“Rishi Sunak has shown real leadership,” she said. “We’re glad he’s listened to unions and taken vital steps to support working families. Employers can now be confident they’ll be able to pay their wage bills. They must urgently reassure staff that their jobs are safe.”
The article has been updated with additional information.
Correction: This article has been updated to clarify which businesses have been asked to shut.