The Prime Minister has announced the early steps towards mandatory lockdown with all non-essential shops closed and provision for unlimited penalites for business owners who breach the rules. Sara White reports
The effective lockdown came into effect immediately on 23 March and will be reviewed in three weeks, Boris Johnson said during a televised address.
‘No Prime Minister wants to enact measures like this. I know the damage that this disruption is doing and will do to people’s lives, to their businesses and to their jobs,’ Johnson said.
‘And that’s why we have produced a huge and unprecedented programme of support both for workers and for business.
‘And I can assure you that we will keep these restrictions under constant review. We will look again in three weeks, and relax them if the evidence shows we are able to.’
The measures will be included in the Coronavirus Bill, which had its first reading in parliament yesterday, although immediate compliance in England and Wales has been set out in statutory instrument, Health Protection (Coronavirus, Business Closures) Regulations 2020.
The Coronavirus Bill sets out increased police powers during the covid-19 crisis and runs to 329 pages, including draft legislation allowing for £1,000 fines for refusing to take a covid-19 test and detention.
The Bill is being raced through parliament and has now moved to the House of Lords for first stage reading today [24 March].
All non-essential shops had to close immediately at close of trading last night, but the list of stores which will be allowed to remain open is still fairly long.
Johnson said the closure policy will be under constant review. Supermarkets, outdoor food markets and pharmacies are on the critical open list.
Legal obligation and fines
The legislation will be enforced in England and Wales under statutory instrument, Health Protection (Coronavirus, Business Closures) Regulations 2020, and any business breaking the rules will be committing an offence.
‘Environmental health and trading standards officers will monitor compliance with these regulations, with police support provided if appropriate,’ stated guidance issued by the Department of Housing, Communities and Local Government [see link to official guidance below].
‘Businesses and premises that breach the rules will be subject to prohibition notices, and potentially unlimited fines.’
These measures will be extended to Scotland and Northern Ireland by ministerial direction once the Coronavirus Bill is in force.
In the last week the government has announced a raft of financial measures to support businesses and individuals through the covid-19 crisis, including the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, Covid Corporate Financing Facility, three-month VAT deferral, rate breaks for smaller businesses and the 80% rule which will see furloughed workers paid up to 80% of their salary if they are temporarily 'laid off'.
Further measures are expected to be announced in the next few days to support medium to larger sized businesses while there are calls to introduce more support for the self employed.
The following retail outlets will be allowed to remain open:
- bicycle shops;
- car rentals;
- chemists, pharmacies, health shops, including non-dispensing pharmacies;
- corner shops;
- home and hardware shops;
- laundrettes and dry cleaners;
- pet shops;
- petrol stations;
- post offices; and
- supermarkets and other food shops.
There are also tight restrictions on the public's use of retail and public premises which are permitted to remain open, which will be the responsibility of retail owners.
The following measures must be followed:
- ensure a distance of two meters between customers and shop assistants;
- let people enter the shop only in small groups, to ensure that spaces are not crowded; and
- queue control is required outside of shops and other essential premises that remain open.
The following shops and facilities had to close at end of trading on 23 March:
- all non-essential retail stores - including clothing and electronics stores; hair, beauty and nail salons; and outdoor and indoor markets, excluding food markets;
- hotels, hostels, bed and breakfasts, campsites, caravan parks, and boarding houses for commercial/leisure use (excluding permanent residents and key workers);
- indoor and outdoor leisure facilities such as bowling alleys, arcades and soft play facilities;
- libraries, community centres, and youth centres;
- communal places within parks, such as playgrounds, sports courts and outdoor gyms; and
- places of worship, except for funerals attended by immediate families.
Takeaway and delivery services may remain open and operational in line with guidance issued on Friday 20 March.
Online retail will remain open, and postal and delivery services will run as normal.
From 23 March, people will only be allowed to leave their home for the following very limited purposes:
- shopping for basic necessities, as infrequently as possible;
- one form of exercise a day - for example a run, walk, or cycle - alone or with members of your household;
- any medical need, to provide care or to help a vulnerable person; and
- travelling to and from work, but only where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home.
DCHMS Covid-19 guidance: Further businesses and premises to close, issued 23 Mar 2020
Report by Sara White
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