Some trains on London’s Tube network were crowded again on Tuesday morning despite Boris Johnson placing the UK on a police-enforced lockdown with drastic new measures in the fight against the coronavirus outbreak.
The Prime Minister ordered people only to leave their homes under a list of “very limited purposes”, banned public gatherings of more than two people and ordered the closure of non-essential shops.
But police chiefs warned of phone lines being inundated with calls on Monday night with questions about what movements are still permitted, while MPs also called for answers.
Pictures on social media suggested that many people in the capital were continuing to use the Underground to travel around, prompting a desperate plea from London Mayor Sadiq Khan: “I cannot say this more strongly: we must stop all non-essential use of public transport now. Ignoring these rules means more lives lost..
Nurse Julia Harris, who commutes to work at Imperial College NHS Trust, said she had left earlier and changed her route to avoid crowds but still found the District Line to be busy.
She told the PA news agency: “The choice isn’t there and my commute is quite long. I worry for my health more on my commute than actually being in the hospital.”
It comes as Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove was forced to back-track after initially saying the children of separated parents should not move between households.
He later clarified “it may be necessary” for some children who are under 18 to move, tweeting: “I wasn’t clear enough earlier, apologies. To confirm – while children should not normally be moving between households, we recognise that this may be necessary when children who are under 18 move between separated parents.
“This is permissible and has been made clear in the guidance.”
Sports Direct also confirmed it will not open its stores to the public following a U-turn by the sportswear retailer.
It had earlier said its stores would remain open because selling sporting and fitness equipment makes the company a vital asset during a national shutdown.
In an address to the nation from Downing Street on Monday evening, Mr Johnson ordered people to only leave their homes to shop for basic necessities “as infrequently as possible”, and to only perform one form of exercise a day.
They can also seek medical help, provide care to a vulnerable person or travel to work if “absolutely necessary”, under the measures to last until at least Easter Monday.
“That’s all – these are the only reasons you should leave your home,” he said.
“You should not be meeting friends. If your friends ask you to meet, you should say no. You should not be meeting family members who do not live in your home.”
A failure to follow the rules could see police dispersing gatherings and imposing fines, which Government officials said would start at £30.
After the UK death toll hit 335, the PM ordered the immediate closure of non-essential stores including those selling electronics and clothing.
The Prime Minister also ordered a ban on all public gatherings of more than two people – other than those they live with.
Other premises to join pubs and restaurants in being closed are libraries, playgrounds, outdoor gyms, places of worship and hotels.
Parks will remain open for exercise, but all social events including weddings and baptisms will be stopped. Funerals can continue.
Mr Johnson said the measures will be “under constant review” and will be considered for relaxation in three weeks if the evidence allows.
Politicians who had piled pressure on the PM to enforce strict measures amid fears people were disregarding social distancing advice largely welcomed his announcement.
But there were calls for answers to the public’s concerns after the PM scrapped his daily press conference on Monday to announce the measures in a statement.
Northamptonshire Police Chief Constable Nick Adderley warned the public not to “cripple our phone” lines with enquiries on the PM’s announcement.
And Sir Peter Fahy, the former chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, said “there is a huge amount of clarification needed” about the tougher rules.
He told BBC Breakfast: “If you compare us to Italy, we have about half the number of police officers that they have. We don’t have a paramilitary police force like the Carabinieri. Our police officers are already very stretched.
“It will require a huge amount of public support, public acceptance and public compliance, because if officers are going to be dispersing groups they are going to be asking about things like ‘is there a power of arrest?’ and that will then tie up more and more officers.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “There now needs to be clear guidance to employers and workers about which workplaces should close – and the Government must close the loopholes to give security to all workers, including the self-employed, as well as renters and mortgage holders.”
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the measures that “amount to a lockdown” were “essential for the protection of all of us”.
Ironically, hours after the PM placed the UK on lockdown, China said it was lifting restrictions on movement in most areas of Hubei province on Wednesday, ending a lockdown in the place coronavirus first surfaced.
Mr Johnson, whose announcement prompted a surge of traffic to online supermarket websites, is to hold a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning, but some ministers will be joining online instead of heading to Downing Street.
Forty-six more people died in England alongside four in Scotland and four in Wales on Monday, taking the number who have died in British hospitals after testing positive to 335. Those who have died in England range in age from 18 to 105.
In an earlier escalation of advice, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told citizens travelling overseas to return to the UK using commercial routes that are still running.
“If you are on holiday abroad the time to come home is now while you still can,” he said.
Foreign Office staff are working to help citizens get back where routes have been halted due to the crisis.
Meanwhile, emergency legislation to tackle the outbreak cleared the House of Commons after MPs chose not to oppose the third reading of the Coronavirus Bill.