UK coronavirus: Boris Johnson announces strict lockdown across country – as it happened

Last modified: 01: 16 AM GMT+0

Closing summary

That’s all from us for this evening. Thanks for reading. Here’s a summary of the latest news:

And my colleague in Australia, Helen Sullivan, is continuing our global coronavirus coverage here:

One important update: The government’s guidance says the medical need exemption to the new restrictions “includes moving children under 18 between their parents’ homes”. This would seem to suggest that separated parents will be able to maintain their shared custody arrangements.

Hotels, hostels, BnBs, as well as campsites and commercial boarding houses and caravan parks are all expected to close down.

But ministers have said there will be exceptions where people are living in them permanently or while their primary residences are unavailable.

Key workers can continue to stay in hotels or similar where required.

Meanwhile, business leaders are responding to the new series of measures by urging companies to “comply with its spirit”. The London Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s chief executive, Richard Burge, has said:

The statement from the prime minister tonight is clear and I urge all businesses in London to comply with its spirit, not just the letter.

London Chamber and the British Chambers of Commerce will be working hard to get pace and energy in delivering the promised government support, but now just do as asked.

The director general of the British Chamber of Commerce, Adam Marshall, has said:

Businesses must play their part to help limit the spread of coronavirus.

As the UK goes into lockdown, ministers must be crystal-clear about which businesses can continue to operate, and those which must now shut their doors.

The new restrictions make it all the more important that the massive package of financial support announced by ministers last week is delivered to firms and employees on the ground as quickly as possible.

Here’s the list of retail businesses the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government say are exempt from the prime minister’s order to close down:

  • Supermarkets and other food shops
  • Health shops
  • Pharmacies, including non-dispensing pharmacies
  • Petrol stations
  • Bicycle shops
  • Home and hardware shops
  • Laundrettes and dry cleaners
  • Garages
  • Car rentals
  • Pet shops
  • Corner shops and newsagents
  • Post offices
  • Banks

We reported earlier that Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group, which includes Sports Direct and Evans Cycles, had said it intended to keep its stores open because it provides equipment people can use to keep fit while observing the government’s physical distancing rules.

At least in respect of Evans, that has been lent weight by government guidance published this evening that explicitly says bicycle shops are exempted from the retail store closure order.

There is concern this evening that No 10 has not offered sufficient clarity on who is and who is not covered by the new restrictions.

Plaid Cymru have written to the prime minister asking to whom was he referring, exactly, when he said that people whose jobs cannot be done from home will still be able to travel to work.

Was he referring to key workers only or anyone whose boss does not believe it’s feasible to work from home?

Plaid Cymru Leader @Adamprice and our Westminster Leader @LSRPlaid have tonight written to @BorisJohnson and @fmwales seeking clarity over who should and should not travel to work following the announcement of a #lockdown across the UK. 👇

— Plaid Cymru (@Plaid_Cymru) March 23, 2020

Work on building sites can continue as long as workers observe physical distancing, the housing secretary Robert Jenrick has said.

Advice for the housing, construction & building maintenance industries:
🔹If you can work from home, do so.
🔹If you are working on site, you can continue to do so. But follow Public Health England guidance on social distancing.
🔹Outside of work, remember to #StayHomeSaveLives

— Robert Jenrick (@RobertJenrick) March 23, 2020


Some readers have asked how the restrictions apply to separated parents’ shared custody arrangements. The simple answer is that it’s not covered by the published guidance. But we’ve asked for clarification and will pass on any that’s forthcoming.

The Labour MP, Jess Phillips, has had this to say on the matter:

Children living in two homes will I am sure be able to travel between homes. I will seek clarification but it will surely be considered essential.

— Jess Phillips MP (@jessphillips) March 23, 2020

People are understandably worried about the details but please give a bit of time and I promise we will get answers on the details as soon as we can.

— Jess Phillips MP (@jessphillips) March 23, 2020

The prime minister has ordered what amounts to a UK lockdown this evening. Here’s how Boris Johnson’s position has shifted over the course of the past month or so:

The NHS has stressed that people can still leave their homes to donate blood. An NHS Blood and Transplant spokesman has said:

People can still donate blood. Giving blood is classed as a medical need and a form of helping vulnerable people. It is essential to patients and the NHS. If you are fit and well, please keep donating as normal.

Here’s a little more detail from the Press Association on their Sports Direct story. Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group, which includes Sports Direct and Evans Cycles, is claiming that selling sports equipment that people could use to stay fit and healthy in their homes means their staff should be classed as key workers and their stores should stay open.

Its finance chief, Chris Wootton, wrote to all workers within 30 minutes of the prime minister’s announcement that all non-essential retailers must shut down to help stop the virus’ spread.

We stock a huge range of sports equipment designed for exercising at home ... indeed home fitness is the number one trending topic on social media after coronavirus itself.

Against the backdrop of the closure of gyms the demand for these types of products has increased exponentially as the population looks to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Consequently, we are uniquely well placed to help keep the UK as fit and healthy as possible during this crisis and thus our Sports Direct and Evans Cycles stores will remain open where possible to allow us to do this (in accordance with the Government’s current social distancing guidance).

There is no one else that has the range of product and range of stores to make this reasonably accessible for the whole population.

Coronavirus legislation passes Commons

Emergency legislation to respond to the coronavirus outbreak has cleared the House of Commons, with MPs giving the coronavirus bill an unopposed third reading. It now passes to the House of Lords.

Meanwhile, bosses at Sports Direct have told staff this evening they intend to keep their stores open because they believe they are “uniquely well placed to help keep the UK as fit and healthy as possible during this crisis”, the Press Association is reporting.

It cites a letter written by the Frasers Group finance chief, Chris Wootton, and sent to all staff. In it, he has reportedly told them:

Thus our Sports Direct and Evans Cycles stores will remain open where possible to allow us to do this (in accordance with the government’s current social distancing guidance).

Paddy Lillis, the general secretary of the shopworkers’ union Usdaw said:

Earlier today, we called for more clarity on government advice; particularly around the closure of non-food shops. We now have clear instructions and we urge the public to listen and act accordingly.

As a result, we are aware of that some employers are laying staff off and asking them to go without pay until the government’s Coronavirus Job Protection Scheme commences, potentially at the end of April.

Low-paid workers cannot wait this long without pay and we urge the government to act urgently to protect the workforce and for employers to act sympathetically.

Our members in supermarkets have had a torrid time over the last few days due to panic buying. Tonight, the government has made it absolutely clear that people can only leave home to buy essential items. We hope that brings to an end the misery that shopworkers have endured as this crisis unfolded.

I would like to pay tribute to the essential workers who will continue to leave their homes and work to help us through the coronavirus emergency. They deserve our appreciation and admiration.

We reported earlier that the heads of two major trade unions had fallen in behind the prime minister in respect of the new restrictions. Len McCluskey, the head of the UK’s largest union Unite, has said:

The prime minister’s statement illustrates the gravity of the situation. This is a national health emergency and every resource, business and community in the country must be laser-focused, pulling together to do what needs to be done to protect public health.

The message to employers is clear: be responsible, help workers be part and parcel of the essential efforts to support the nation. Keep workers and their families safe. That means turn to the government’s job retention scheme to pay wages to keep households afloat. Please, do not sack workers - use the mechanisms that we have persuaded this government to bring in to avert mass hardship.

But I also say to the government, you are very aware that there are very many millions of people in this country with insecure employment and wages. They need your urgent assistance. They desperately want to heed this clear public health message but they need to know that the awful false choice between health and hardship has been removed.

I urge you now, prime minister, stand behind the UK’s workers. You promised that you would do whatever it takes.

McCluskey urged Johnson to “keep to your word – bring forward the measures that every worker needs in order to keep the country safe. Do not let any worker be left behind”.


The Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of England have called on everyone to follow the government’s instructions. In a joint statement, they have said:

In the light of the government’s measures, announced by the prime minister this evening, we urge everyone to follow the instructions given.

We will give a fuller statement of advice as soon as possible. Let us continue to pray, to love, to care for the vulnerable, and build our communities, even while separated.

Asked if there were fears that major crimes were now not the “priority”, Mash has said:

Absolutely, 100%. We will police the same as we do up to a certain degree, but this has taken over everything, as it quite rightly should.

This is the biggest thing that’s ever happened in my lifetime and anyone’s lifetime really, and we need to get on top of it.

It’s not to say we won’t be policing, so people can’t behave in any way they want, because we will still be policing exactly the same, but you will see measures changing as this changes.

On the potential for future public disorder, he said:

We are prepared for everything, I pray that doesn’t happen because that just shows you how absurd we’ve become. Yes, we will deal with anything that is put in front of us.

Marsh added that he believed the Army could be drafted, should police numbers fall due to illness.

The Army are already in place on the outskirts of London and across the country. And I don’t doubt again for one minute that they will be called if needed.

Because, if we start losing large numbers in policing terms, through isolation and actually having Covid-19, then they are going to step in and support us in some way.

It could be tailored in quite quickly and I would say that everything is on the table.

As we’ve reported, the National Police Chiefs Council has explicitly ruled out bringing in the military.

Marsh has there could be “tougher measures” if the public do not adhere to the restrictions.

Absolutely it could become more draconian towards the public, no doubt whatsoever. You see up to today that they weren’t taking a lot of notice and that’s why I think the prime minister has had to step in in the way he has.

Hopefully, from this day, well if they don’t listen, then there will be tougher measures. I don’t doubt for one minute, because the only thing you are going to see is hundreds and hundreds of people dying.

And we don’t want that, the police don’t want that, I’m sure the public don’t want that. It could be their loved ones. So we’ve got to work together.

Marsh has added that he’s already seeing “large amounts of sickness” among officers across London. He has told Sky News:

We haven’t seen one of the 24,000 officers that we lost across the country. So it will be very, very challenging and very difficult for us with what’s put in front of us.

But we don’t actually know what is being put in front of us yet other than we’re going to be asked to disperse crowds, it’s going to be a real, real challenge.

But he warned: “We will be dealing with it, but I’m not sure we will have the resources to be able to see it through.”

The National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) is also moving quickly to squash suggestions police officers would be assisted by troops on the streets or road blocks used to enforce the lock down. A spokesperson for the NPCC has told the Guardian:

Neither is being considered in any way.

The government’s guidance on the new restrictions makes clear that those households who are isolating, as well as the most vulnerable people, should follow the guidance they’ve already been given.

The document adds that key workers or parents of children already identified as vulnerable can continue to take their children to school.

Ken Marsh, the chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, has also asked the public for their support, telling Sky News:

It’s going to be very difficult what is put in front of us. I don’t doubt for one minute that my colleagues will rise to the challenge, because that’s what we always do and it’s what the public expect us to do.

But, when we talk about powers, we’ve got to see what they are because we haven’t actually seen these new powers. We’re only at the moment talking about existing powers that we have.

One thing I would say straight off the bat to the public is: ‘Please, please, you’ve got to come with us on this one, you’ve got to help with this, otherwise it’s going to get really, really impossible’.


And the home secretary, Priti Patel, has acknowledged the practical difficulties facing police forces across the country:

I know that the coming weeks will be testing for our frontline police officers. I will do everything I can to ensure that they have the resources they need to keep themselves and the public safe.

Their selflessness, compassion and commitment inspires us all every single day.

— Priti Patel #StayHomeSaveLives (@patel4witham) March 23, 2020

The national chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, John Apter, has appealed for the public’s support in observing the new restrictions, saying:

We are in unprecedented and uncertain times, with government advice frequently changing as Covid-19 affects more people.

Saving lives and protecting the public is the number one priority for us all; and at his time of national crisis it is essential that we all come together and play our part in doing so.

The practicalities of policing this lockdown will be challenging, but policing will do all it can to keep the public safe, but we need the public to support us.

I ask that the public heed the advice and stay at home unless absolutely necessary. This will allow police officers to concentrate on keeping the streets safe and deal with all the regular calls we receive. This is about saving lives and supporting our NHS, I ask that the public gives us their support in this time of crisis.

A senior police source says the lockdown will involve neither the military on the streets, nor tactics such as road blocks. But details on enforcement are still being hammered out and will continue to be so over the next few days.


The former Labour leader, Ed Miliband, has asked the government to provide more information in practice:

Constructive request: more guidance/videos/messaging from government urgently needed for people about social distancing when they do go outside. Some people are still unsure/unclear about it.

— Ed Miliband (@Ed_Miliband) March 23, 2020

The DUP’s leader and the first minister of Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster, has backed the new restrictions

We need to follow this advice to save lives and protect our hospitals.

People should stay in unless it’s essential to go out.

It won’t be easy but it’s for the best.

— Arlene Foster (@DUPleader) March 23, 2020

The UK government has now published its guidance on the new restrictions (you can read it here – pdf), including when people should and should not be leaving their homes.


Here’s my colleague Peter Walker on what the new restrictions mean for you:

Government and opposition unite behind emergency measures

The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has backed the restrictions just announced by the prime minister, said:

The prime minister is right to call for people to stay at home, protect our NHS and save lives. This is the right response to the coronavirus pandemic, and one we have been calling for.

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.

We welcome these moves and will be working to ensure everybody has the protection and security they need.

Minutes after the prime minster’s announcement, police made it clear the details of the enforcement of the lockdown were still being determined.

Marin Hewitt, the chair of the National Police Chiefs Council who was at theCobra meeting this evening where the measures were approved, has said:

Measures to ensure social distancing have so far not had the necessary effect. These new measures are sensible, based on scientific evidence and give people clarity on the exact steps they must take to stop the rapid transmission of this disease.

The majority of people are already making real sacrifices to save lives and we urge everyone to follow the advice that is designed to keep us all safe.

We are working with the government and other agencies to consider how these new rules can be most effectively enforced.


The swingeing lockdown brings huge challenges to police, including a dramatic change in the British style of policing.

It is seen as anathema to the British model of policing by consent, and officers being citizens in uniform: “There is absolute reluctance,” said one source. “It’s a total change of policing style.”

Officers will hope to use “persuasion” to convince those not complying, and want to avoid flashpoints.

With police forces expected to be stretched as officers go sick or have to self isolate, chiefs do not want to have to devote massive resources to enforcing the lockdown – and may not have them.

Police planners expect that as the pandemic spreads in the UK, between 20 and 25% of officers may be off work because they have the virus or are housebound themselves

And union leaders have lent their backing to the measures:

Latest government restrictions are severe but critical to stop our NHS being overwhelmed. The best thing you can do to support all our public service workers is to stay at home.

— Dave Prentis (@DavePrentis) March 23, 2020

We must all comply with the government's advice. Together we can save lives and protect workers in our NHS and key services. It's not easy - but right now this is what solidarity looks like. #StayAtHomeSaveLives

— Frances O'Grady (@FrancesOGrady) March 23, 2020

Other political leaders, including the first minister of Wales Mark Drakeford, have delivered their own addresses reiterating the new measures.

First Minister Mark Drakeford says there are 'big changes for us all' as tough new measures are announced

— BBC Wales News (@BBCWalesNews) March 23, 2020

NEW: Everyone must now stay home apart from:

➡️ shopping for necessities as infrequently as possible
➡️ exercising once a day
➡️ medical need
➡️ travelling to work only if you work in a critical industry like the NHS

These rules are not optional. They are to stop people dying.

— Sadiq Khan (@SadiqKhan) March 23, 2020

The former chancellor, Sajid Javid, has said:

This could not be more serious.

*Please* stay at home to save lives.

— Sajid Javid (@sajidjavid) March 23, 2020

And a huge thank you to NHS staff, police and all other key workers.

— Sajid Javid (@sajidjavid) March 23, 2020

One key provision that came out of Sturgeon’s press conference was that, while funerals were exempted from the lockdown, attendance must be limited to immediate family.

The chief medical officer for Scotland, Catherine Calderwood, says this is no longer a rehearsal for something that might happen. She stresses that lives will be lost if we do not change how we live our lives.

Referring to enforcement, Sturgeon says this is not guidance or advice, but a “set of rules to be followed”.

She says powers of enforcement will be handed to government later this week and they will use them, including empowering the police to issue fines and break up gatherings.

That provides greater clarity on Johnson’s address, in which he did not explicitly set out how the enforcement would work and from where it would derive its authority.

Echoing Johnson, Sturgeon says the people of Scotland must stay at home. She repeats the limited set of reasons people can leave. You can see those here.

Scotland’s first minster, Nicola Sturgeon, is now delivering an address setting out what the measures mean for Scotland.

She says the restrictions are “difficult and unprecedented”. She says she will not seek to sugarcoat it, but adds they are essential to protect people.

Here’s the full text of Boris Johnson’s address to the nation, which he has just finished delivering:

Johnson lauds those who have been working to keep the country running – including “everyone from the supermarket staff to the transport workers to the carers to the nurses and doctors on the frontline”. He adds:

And therefore I urge you at this moment of national emergency to stay at home, protect our NHS and save lives. Thank you.

Johnson adds that parks will “remain open for exercise but gatherings will be dispersed”.

He says “no prime minister wants to enact measures like this”, adding that he understands the “damage that this disruption is doing”.

He promises to keep the restrictions “under constant review” and that the government will “look again in three weeks, and relax them if the evidence shows we are able to”.

Police to enforce lockdown

Johnson has added now that the police will be able to take action where people are not complying with the new measures:

If you don’t follow the rules the police will have the powers to enforce them, including through fines and dispersing gatherings.

To ensure compliance with the government’s instruction to stay at home, we will immediately close all shops selling non-essential goods, including clothing and electronic stores and other premises including libraries, playgrounds and outdoor gyms, and places of worship.

We will stop all gatherings of more than two people in public – excluding people you live with.

And we’ll stop all social events, including weddings, baptisms and other ceremonies, but excluding funerals.

PM orders Britons to stay in their homes

UK citizens are now being ordered to stay in their homes in a bid to stop the spread of coronavirus. He says 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

Travelling to and from work, but only where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home

That’s all – these are the only reasons you should leave your home.

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. You should not be going shopping except for essentials like food and medicine — and you should do this as little as you can. And use food delivery services where you can.

'Stay at home': PM announces strict measures, giving police powers and closing most shops

The prime minister adds:

Though huge numbers are complying – and I thank you all – the time has now come for us all to do more. From this evening, I must give the British people a very simple instruction – you must stay at home.

Because the critical thing we must do is stop the disease spreading between households.


Boris Johnson outlines the UK’s current approach. He says a “huge national effort” has been needed to halt the spread, adding: “there will come a moment when no health service in the world could possibly cope because there won’t be enough ventilators, enough intensive care beds, enough doctors and nurses”.

And as we have seen elsewhere, in other countries that also have fantastic health care systems, that is the moment of real danger. To put it simply, if too many people become seriously unwell at one time, the NHS will be unable to handle it – meaning more people are likely to die, not just from coronavirus but from other illnesses as well. So it’s vital to slow the spread of the disease.

Because that is the way we reduce the number of people needing hospital treatment at any one time, so we can protect the NHS’s ability to cope – and save more lives.

He says that’s the reason for physical distancing measures.


The prime minister has delivered a televised address to the nation. He tells Britons the outbreak is the “biggest threat this country has faced for decades”.

All over the world we are seeing the devastating impact of this invisible killer. And so tonight I want to update you on the latest steps we are taking to fight the disease and what you can do to help.

A patient with Covid-19 has died in a hospital in the greater Belfast area, Stormont’s health department said. The patient was aged in their late 60s and had underlying health conditions. The health minister, Robin Swann, said:

My heart goes out to the loved ones of this patient. This is the third tragic announcement of this kind I have had to make in recent days.

The lethal threat from this virus is very real and we all have to do everything we can to combat it.

The supreme court building is closing and all proceedings will be carried out remotely, it has been announced. Hearings will take place via video conferencing facilities and the court is closed to the public.

A court statement released today reads:

As a result of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, the supreme court building and café are currently closed to the public and so it will not be possible to visit the building for the foreseeable future.

All tours, events and education sessions have also been cancelled until further notice and arrangements have been made for refunds where necessary.

We continue to keep the situation and these measures under constant review, and look forward to announcing when we will be able to resume normal opening.


John Healey, the shadow housing secretary, has accused the government of breaking a promise to people who rent their homes.

Labour believes the proposals brought forward by the government simply give people facing eviction a longer notice period, rather than protecting them from eviction altogether.

Ministers previously claimed they were introducing a “complete ban on evictions” and promised that landlords would not be able to “start proceedings to evict tenants for at least a three-month period”.

But Healey says the bill still allows landlords to give renters notice of eviction, as long as the notice period is at least three months.

This is not an evictions ban, as Labour argued for, and renters were eventually promised by Boris Johnson. This legislation does not stop people losing their homes as a result of coronavirus, it just gives them some extra time to pack their bags.

It beggars belief that the government is not willing to make this simple change. We even wrote to ministers to give them the legislation that would provide the protections renters need: to ban evictions and suspend rental payments beyond the crisis. This is the help already promised for struggling home-owners from government and mortgage lenders.

Coronavirus is a public health emergency, it need not become a crisis of housing and homelessness too. But this will happen if the government continues to refuse to take the most basic steps to keep people in their homes.


Profiteering from the outbreak should be made a criminal offence, the Commons has heard. The Labour former minister, Chris Bryant, has told MPs:

I completely despair at some of the scenes I’ve seen from our fellow citizens in the last few days.

Bryant called for panic buying to stop and criticised those ignoring expert advice.

I hate the idea that there are companies which are actively profiteering in this country. It was a criminal offence during the war and it should be a criminal offence now.

PM to address the nation

The prime minister, Boris Johnson, will address the UK on new measures to tackle the coronavirus outbreak in a statement from No 10 at 8.30pm, Downing Street says.

We’ll bring you news of that as it happens right here.

The government has called on universities to “act responsibly” as they scramble to recruit undergraduates for next September with the lure of unconditional offers, warning their actions could destabilise the admissions system and cause volatility in the sector.

Following the government’s announcement that summer exams – including A-levels and BTECs – were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, some universities have switched offers from conditional to unconditional to secure new recruits for the 2020/21 academic year.

The universities minister, Michelle Donelan, has asked them to pause for two weeks while the sector addresses the admissions turmoil, and make no further changes which she says might not be in students’ best interests.

We are facing unprecedented circumstances as a country, but it is essential that we create a period of stability for both students and universities.

As universities seek to secure attendance for the next academic year, I would ask them to refrain from changing existing offers to unconditional offers as it risks destabilising the entire admissions systems.

We must also look out for students too, who in these uncertain times may be feeling anxious about their futures. I want to reassure students that we will provide them with the grades they need.

No student should feel pressured into making a quick decision which may end up not being in their best interest.

Like almost every other sector, universities face huge uncertainties over the coming months as a result of the pandemic, with fears that many already in deficit risk financial ruin as international students stay away and uncertainty about when the new academic year can start.

Early evening summary

  • Boris Johnson has been chairing a meeting of the government’s Cobra emergency committee, amid growing speculation that he is poised to announce tougher social distancing measures designed to keep people largely in their homes. He is due to make an announcement tonight at 8.30pm. Labour is saying it would back measures to “force” people to stay at home. (See 5.15pm.) And Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, has complained that people are still going to work to do jobs that are not essential. (See 1.12pm.) A week ago, when Johnson first announced a dramatic escalation of social distancing, he said people should work from home where possible. Now increasingly ministers want people to stay at home unless their work is essential.
  • The number of coronavirus patients in the UK who have died has risen to 335. That is a six-fold increase on this time last week. (See 5.52pm.)
  • Hancock has told MPs that more than 7,500 former clinicians have answered his call to return to the NHS to help out during the coronavirus outbreak. (See 4.26pm.)
  • Caravan parks and campsites in Wales are being closed to visitors from today, Mark Drakeford, the Welsh first minister, has announced. (See 4.49pm.)
MPs trying to keep their distance from each other this evening.
MPs trying to keep their distance from each other in the debate this afternoon. Photograph: PRU/AFP via Getty Images


FCO tells Britons abroad to return to UK immediately

Up to 1 million Britons on holiday or on business trips abroad have been asked to return to the UK immediately by the Foreign Office, as they may not be able to get commercial flights within days.

In updated advice, the FCO said British citizens abroad who are resident in the UK should make urgent plans to cut short holidays and other trips and come back home straight away.

Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, said:

We are strongly urging UK travellers overseas to return home now where and while there are still commercial routes to do so. Around the world, more airlines are suspending flights and more airports are closing, some without any notice.

Where commercial routes don’t exist, our staff are working round the clock to give advice and support to UK nationals. If you are on holiday abroad the time to come home is now while you still can.

The full story is here.


All non-essential businesses in Northern Ireland are being urged to close immediately.

Northern Ireland’s first minister Arlene Foster has said there will be a “wave of deaths” in Northern Ireland if people do not obey social distancing rules as the coronavirus will spread.

Her deputy, Michelle O’Neill, urged the public to understand that “this is not a holiday, this is an emergency”.

On Monday 20 new cases of coronavirus were confirmed in Northern Ireland, bringing the total to 148. Two people have died.


High Street chemist giant Boots has just confirmed to the Guardian that it will be slimming down its wider retail offer to focus its efforts on “supplying communities with the healthcare, pharmacy and essential items that they need” in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

From Tuesday, thousands of staff working on beauty counters such as No7, Liz Earle, Benefit, Fenty and fragrance will not be required to go to work in Boots’s 2,500 stores across the UK. However, they will be given the option of switching to other roles in store if they wish.

In line with restrictions on physical distancing, Boots Opticians and Hearingcare stores across the UK will close, although a fraction will remain open to help those with “essential eye and hearing care needs”. These can be viewed tomorrow here.

Seb James, managing director of Boots UK, said:

Boots has a unique role to play during this time, and our duty and focus is to ensure that pharmacy, healthcare and a wide range of the essential products that we sell are available to those who need them.

I want to thank the teams for their outstanding dedication in keeping our pharmacies and stores open. Boots continues to be a place of trust for those who need us.

In its struggle to meet shoppers’ demands for essentials such as hand sanitiser and family medication, the retailer has warned staff that its warehouses only contain enough supply of paracetamol for another week and a half and that stocks could be depleted by the end of next week.


Number of UK patients who have died rises to 335

As of 9am on 23 March, a total of 83,945 people in the UK had been tested for Covid-19: 77,295 negative, 6,650 positive.

As of 1pm, 335 patients who tested positive had died.

UPDATE on coronavirus (#COVID19) testing in the UK:

As of 9am on 23 March, a total of 83,945 have been tested:

77,295 negative.
6,650 positive.

As of 1pm, 335 patients who tested positive for coronavirus have sadly died.

The digital dashboard will be updated later today.

— Department of Health and Social Care (@DHSCgovuk) March 23, 2020


Football stars from around the world have implored fans to follow health advice to help stem the tide of coronavirus.

A new campaign between the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Fifa has been launched to “pass the message to kick out coronavirus”.

One of the players participating is Liverpool goalkeeper, Alisson Becker, who is also a WHO ambassador. He said:

I know in these tough times everyone has changed their lives - staying home, not going out. In my case, I am not able to be with my colleagues, with my teammates, to do what I love.

Health comes first in this moment. It is time, like in football, for teamwork - everybody doing their own job, that includes to be safe and at home, and washing hands properly, keeping distance from people.

We need now to work as a team.

Thank you @DrTedros @WHO
Together we are stronger!! @FIFAcom #coronavirus #KickOutCorona #PassTheMessage #WHO #AB1

— Alisson Becker (@Alissonbecker) March 23, 2020

Road safety charity, Brake, is warning drivers to steer clear of risky rural roads unless essential, so that they don’t increase the burden on the NHS by being involved in a fatal or serious crash.

The warning comes after people across the UK flocked to the countryside over the weekend, increasing traffic levels on the roads which carry the most risk of death and serious injury.

To avoid any extra burden on the NHS, Brake is warning people not to travel unless absolutely essential and urging those that do have to travel to stay well within the speed limit and be aware of unexpected hazards and other road users at all times.

Joshua Harris, director of campaigns for Brake, said:

Unless absolutely essential, we urge everyone to stop driving on our risky rural roads to the countryside - you are putting yourself at increased risk of being killed or injured in a road crash and of adding to the burden on our NHS.

We would advise everyone to stay at home and stay safe, but if you absolutely must travel, stay well within the speed limit and be aware of unexpected hazards at all times.

We need to stop all non-essential travel to support our incredible emergency services. For those who need to drive, follow our advice to help minimise the chance of a crash 👉 #DriveSafe #SupportNHS #RoadSafety

— Brake (@Brakecharity) March 20, 2020

Charities have stepped up calls for an urgent emergency financial aid package to bail out voluntary organisations struggling to maintain services as billions of pounds in fundraising income dries up.

Hospices, social care providers, refuges, homelessness services, and cancer and other medical research charities are among those preparing to reduce services after coronavirus bans on social gatherings wiped out donated income for fundraising events.

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) estimates that charities will lose around £4.3 billion over the next 12 weeks as a result of spring and summer events like the London marathon being cancelled. Retail income is also under threat if high street charity shops are forced to close.

Over 100 MPs have signed a letter calling on ministers to provide an emergency injection of cash to keep charities afloat.

Heidi Travis, chief executive of Sue Ryder, said the “devastating” financial impact of coronavirus had put vital palliative care services provided by the charity at risk, even as it was preparing to care for additional patients so that the NHS could free up beds as Covid-19 spreads.

As a charity with over 1,000 doctors and nurses providing compassionate, expert care for people going through the most difficult times of their lives, we know that we are needed now more than ever. This is a plea and no less. Without immediate funding from the government the critical end of life care that Sue Ryder provides to thousands of families across the UK every year will cease.

Children’s cancer support charity CLIC Sargent, which relies on donations and fundraised money for 100% of its annual income, said it had seen a 40% fall in donations over the past three weeks and was currently projecting a 50% loss in turnover.

Rachel Kirby-Rider, CLIC’s director of income told the Guardian:

It’s emotionally difficult for all of our families at the moment and they are incredibly vulnerable. We need to protect that service to them. Without us those families won’t get support. The charity sector is being forgotten, yet the expectation is that we are key workers and will play a key role in the post-Covid 19 world. Yet we have not been given any financial support from the government.

The NCVO has called for a three point support package:

  • Emergency funding for frontline charities and volunteers supporting the response to the coronavirus crisis, especially where they are alleviating pressure on the health service or providing support to people suffering from the economic and social impact of coronavirus.
  • A ‘stabilisation fund’ for all charities to help them stay afloat, pay staff and continue operating during the course of the pandemic.
  • Confirmation that charities should be eligible for similar business interruption measures announced by the Chancellor for businesses

NCVO chief executive Karl Wilding, said:

I’m hearing from charities whose income has disappeared overnight but who still have to run services for their communities. Many of them have very little emergency cash to tide them over, and even those that do will run out in a matter of weeks.

In his speech Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth said the government should take action to stop profiteering during the coronavirus crisis. Earlier, during the business statement, his Labour colleague Liam Byrne gave a striking example. He said a chemist in his constituency had increased the price of children’s medicine by ten-fold. Byrne said, since he first raised this case, he had been flooded by other examples of shops doubling, trebling or quadrupling prices. He said that two thirds of American states had powers to impose price caps in emergencies and that the government should introduce similar powers here.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the Commons, told Byrne that profiteering of this kind was “extremely disagreeable” and that in the past, during some periods, it had been illegal. He said he would pass Byrne’s point on to ministerial colleagues.

According to the Ministry of Defence, 250 MoD personnel are now deployed helping the civil authorities with the coronavirus response. In total 20,000 service personnel are on standby to join in.

Some 150 servicemen and women have today started training so that they can start driving oxygen tankers if required to help the NHS. And 50 servicemen and women have started to help the NHS distribute personal protective equipment.

Water companies are asking people to stay at home for the good of their health rather than visit popular water company sites like reservoirs, Water UK has said.

To help the public keep themselves, their families and their communities protected from the spread of Covid-19, water companies are closing most of their leisure facilities.

These include normally busy places like sailing centres, bird-watching hides, wildlife havens and water parks, along with the car parks, cafes and toilets linked to them.

A limited number of sites will remain partially open, but they will have strict physical distancing rules enforced by on-site staff and their opening will be reviewed on a daily basis.

Labour's Jonathan Ashworth says government should now force people to stay at home

In the Commons Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, is speaking now in the debate on the coronavirus bill on behalf of Labour. Earlier Labour said it wanted the government to enforce social distancing. (See 12.15pm.) Ashworth said the statistics suggest that the coronavirus outbreak in the UK is now worse than it was in Spain and France when they announced a “lockdown” approach. He went on:

I would say that we as Her Majesty’s loyal opposition actually do now call on the government to move to enforce social distancing and greater social and greater social protections as a matter of urgency.

Ashworth also said he thought the greatest problem facing people being made to stay at home was not boredom but economic hardship. He said:

I entirely agree ... if we are going to ask people, or force people, to stay at home - we would support the government if it took that action, I think the government do need to take that action - then we also need to provide people with the economic security that they rightly deserve.

Jonathan Ashworth speaking in the coronavirus bill debate, with Jeremy Corbyn sitting on the Labour front bench beside him.
Jonathan Ashworth speaking in the coronavirus bill debate, with Jeremy Corbyn sitting on the Labour front bench beside him. Photograph: PA Video/PA

Trafalgar Square in London today.
Trafalgar Square in London today. Photograph: Johnny Armstead/REX/Shutterstock

From the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg

COBRA meeting is happening at 5pm so there won’t be PM press conference - but still expect to hear from Boris Johnson later on tonight

— Laura Kuenssberg (@bbclaurak) March 23, 2020

Boris Johnson has spoken to the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, today about coronavirus. A Downing Street spokesman said:

The prime minister and the president agreed on the wider need for ongoing international cooperation, particularly through the G20, to share expertise, support the global economic system and strengthen the ability of vulnerable countries to tackle the virus.

The prime minister stressed the need to support the WHO’s appeal and support vaccine development through the coalition for epidemic preparedness innovations.

Greggs will close its entire store estate from the end of business on Tuesday, saying operating a takeaway service was not enough to maintain physical distancing.

To keep everyone as safe as possible we’ve made the difficult decision to close all of our shops on Tuesday 24th March. Read our full statement below:

— Greggs (@GreggsOfficial) March 23, 2020

Here is a thread that is worth your time. From an NHS Blood and Transplant worker detailing their experience of an NHS shopping hour on Sunday – and how potentially dangerous it is:

It’s important to note who is bearing the brunt of the risk in order to make sure the nation is fed. These women (and the other store staff) are low paid, considered low skilled, and likely to belong to a vulnerable patient group themselves.

Social distancing went out the window- as NHS workers we’re much more likely to be exposed to COVID19 and there were were, cheek by jowl in the tinned food aisle. I’m glad they’re at least separating us from the high risk shoppers now.

Whilst it’s an opportunity that’s been extended to the whole NHS, I urge my colleagues who are working 9-5 or remotely to think carefully and honestly about if they should be using this time. Given today, I personally would feel uncomfortable going if I had another choice.

@mrjamesob Just wanted to share my experience - I had the privilege of being able to use an NHS shopping hour this morning at my local Tesco, which happens to be a big Tesco Extra.

— Amber Tapping (@TamberApping) March 22, 2020

Snowdonia’s National Park Authority has announced it will close its main carparks “following the busiest visitor weekend in living memory”, in order to discourage visitors and protect rural communities from the spread of coronavirus.

The park authority said it was working with the police and local councils to explore options to close down the most popular mountains and sites if the situation continues.

There will be no parking available for access to the most popular sites in Snowdonia including Snowdon, Ogwen, Cadair Idris, Llyn Tegid (Bala Lake), the two Aran, Carneddau and Glyderau and the Nantlle Ridge.

Emyr Williams, chief executive of Snowdonia National Park said:

The crowds we saw on Snowdon and around key sites in Snowdonia over the weekend were alarming as it became evident people were not heeding the government’s advice to avoid non-essential journeys and to maintain safe social distancing, therefore we must act quickly to ensure that this issue is addressed.

Welsh government closes campsites and caravan parks, and restricts access to beauty spots

Caravan parks and campsites in Wales are being closed to visitors from today, Mark Drakeford, the Welsh first minister, has announced. And some beauty spots are effectively being “closed” to tourists too. In a statement he said:

Wales is a beautiful country and attracts millions of visitors every year – but now is not the time for unnecessary journeys. We want people to come to Wales when the threat of coronavirus has passed.

Today, we are taking action to close caravan parks, campsites and some of our most recognisable visitor sites to keep people safe and to reduce the pressure on our NHS.

My message is simple. Please stay at home and save lives.

According to the Welsh government, people in caravan parks or campsites in Wales on holiday will be asked to return home from today, unless there are exceptional reasons why they should stay. People who live permanently in park homes are not affected.

Among the beauty spots being “closed” are Snowdon in north Wales and Sugar Loaf and Pen-y-Fan in the Brecon Beacons. Access to these mountains is being restricted.

Walkers in Snowdonia.
Walkers in Snowdonia. Photograph: Haydn West/PA

The historic Grand Hotel in Brighton will close its doors today until further notice to “help prevent the spread of coronavirus” and its rooms will be offered to NHS staff.

Rooms at the East Sussex seafront hotel will be offered to NHS staff amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Rooms at the East Sussex seafront hotel will be offered to NHS staff amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

A statement on the hotel’s website says:

We are proud to be playing a part in offering support to our precious NHS and the heroic people within it.

We are also able to share that we are committing to pay all of our team members their full contracted wages during this period of uncertainty, indefinitely.

It follows similar announcements last week from Gary Neville and Chelsea FC.

Around 7,500 former medics rejoining NHS to help with coronavirus, MPs told

In the Commons Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has just told MPs that 7,563 former clinicians have answered his call to return to the NHS to help out during the coronavirus outbreak. He said that some of those returning medics were MPs.

Hancock tells MPs he hopes some of emergency powers in coronavirus bill won't be needed

In the Commons Matt Hancock, the health secretary, is opening the debate on the coronavirus bill, the emergency legislation giving the government a wide range of sweeping that it might need to handle the crisis. There is a summary of the measures in the bill here.

Hancock says he hopes he won’t have to use some of the powers in the bill.


Deaths in Great Britain rise by 54 in a day

The number of coronavirus-related deaths announced today in Great Britain is 54, after a further 46 were recorded in England, and Scotland and Wales each recorded a further four.


The UK needs a lockdown to enforce social distancing and needs to rapidly to expand testing for coronavirus, Helen Ward, a professor of epidemiology at Imperial College London, has warned.

In a video posted on Facebook, she said:

It sounds draconian but we have to enforce social distancing, otherwise the pressure on our NHS is just going to get worse and worse.

That means no non-essential travel, no non-essential visits outside the home, and when you are outside the home stay 2 metres apart, don’t touch your face and wash your hands when you get home.

Secondly, we need to ramp up testing dramatically – not just in hospitals but also in the community. This epidemic is different in different places. In some areas of the country there are quite small numbers of cases. We need to stop them growing now otherwise they will turn into hotspots like London. We need to reduce travel between the two as well.

Thirdly, we need to have public health leadership at local and national level. It’s all very well saying we listen to the science – and we absolutely should – but implementing that requests practical public health skills and political will. We need to back up messages with appropriate enforcement and resources on the ground.

And finally, we need to build on the amazing community spirit that is being shown in some areas to give practical support to those people who have to stay at home, self-isolate or who are ill.


MPs might be sitting greater distances from each other in the Commons, but a cross-party group led by Caroline Lucas has suggested a more drastic social-distancing effort – a virtual parliament, using video debates and electronic voting.

Around two-dozen MPs from Labour, the Lib Dems, SNP, Plaid and SDLP, as well as Lucas, the sole Green MP, and a smaller number of peers, having written to the Speakers of both the Commons and Lords saying this would allow the government to be held to account without putting people together. In their letter they say:

“For as long as MPs and peers continue to sit at Westminster, workers including those in security, cleaning staff, canteen staff, clerks and assistants are all being put at increased risk of catching, and spreading, Covid-19,” the letter notes, saying MPs are a particular risk in terms of spreading the virus to their constituencies.

Video debates could be streamed via the Parliament TV website, with voting done electronically, the letter suggests.

Lucas, who was due to raise the idea in the Commons during a debate on Monday on the government’s emergency coronavirus bill, said parliament meeting as usual would be “completely failing to set an example to the rest of the country”. She said:

Judging from what we saw over the weekend, the message about social distancing clearly isn’t getting through. So for parliament to carry on sitting as normal just reinforces the sense that it can be business as usual for the vast majority of people and industries.


Number of deaths in England rises by 46 to 303

A further 46 people who tested positive for coronavirus have died, bringing the total number of confirmed reported deaths in England to 303, NHS England said.


Doctors including medics working in A&E who are trapped abroad after taking work trips and holidays abroad are desperate to join colleagues at home but say the Foreign Office and local embassies have been of no help.

The shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, is now seeking an urgent meeting with the Foreign Office to try and force a government-backed repatriation effort.

“I appreciate the Foreign Office are overwhelmed but I think they can do more,” she says.

She wrote to all Labour MPs at the weekend asking them to pass on any details of constituents stranded abroad to create a data set for the Foreign Office.

More than 300 Britons are stranded in New Zealand, which goes into lockdown tomorrow. They say all the embassy is doing is giving them advice to contact their airline, when airlines have either cancelled their flights or are full.


Voting in Commons to take up to 40 minutes per division under new social distancing rules, MPs told

In the Commons Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker, has just made a statement to MPs about changes to the way parliament will work. All over the rest of the UK ordinary life is being radically transformed, and that is now true of parliament too. Here are the main points.

  • Voting will now take 30 to 40 minutes per division, Hoyle said. Normally a single division takes 15 minutes as MPs troop through the lobbies. Now they are going to go through in smaller groups, to limit social contact, meaning each division will take more than twice as long.
  • The sale of alcohol in Commons and restaurants has been suspended, Hoyle said.
  • Attendance in the Commons chamber is expected to be more limited, Hoyle said. This afternoon there have been far fewer MPs in the chamber than normal, and generally MPs are sitting apart from each other.
  • Video conference facilities are going to be upgraded, to allow select committees to do more of their work remotely. (See 2.51pm.)
  • Hoyle said he wanted MPs to “think twice” before tabling parliamentary questions (questions that ministers have to answer - like freedom of information requests). He said these generate considerable work for officials, who are currently engaged on urgent coronavirus business. MPs should continue to table questions if they are urgent, he said. But he questioned whether they needed to table 60 at a time (as some MPs do).
Sir Lindsay Hoyle.
Sir Lindsay Hoyle. Photograph: Uk Parliamentary Recording Unit/HANDOUT/EPA


Schools need better guidance on coronavirus safety, says teaching union

According to the National Association of Head Teachers, “the vast majority” of parents have followed official advice and kept their children away from school. Paul Whiteman, the NAHT general secretary, said:

We continue to encourage all parents who are key workers to seek alternative arrangements for childcare where possible. Taking your child to school should remain an option of last resort.

But Whiteman said schools needed clearer guidance on safety.

School leaders are crying out for sight of the expert medical evidence on safe levels of attendance and density, and want practical advice on protective steps they should be taking in schools.

From masks or other PPE, to distancing children from each other, to sufficient supplies of soap and hand sanitiser, schools urgently need answers to their questions about effective safety measures.

We also need the government to provide further guidance for special schools and those providing alternative provision as we know many of these are currently open to a higher percentage of pupils.

A sign at the entrance to Green Park in London.
A sign at the entrance to Green Park in London. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA

At a briefing at Stormont Robin Swann, health minister in the Northern Ireland executive, said that the death toll from coronavirus in Northern Ireland could quickly dwarf the death toll from the Troubles (around 3,500). He was also very critical of those ignoring social distancing guidance. He said:

Those who are failing to social distance are probably condemning those they come into contact with the distinct possibility that they are going to contract Covid-19.

They may not suffer the worst implications themselves but they can be assured that they will pass it on to someone who will come to the worst ravages that Covid-19 will bring.

Swann also said the public should expect the introduction of “draconian” restrictions on movement in Northern Ireland within days.

Robin Swann.
Robin Swann. Photograph: Michael McHugh/PA

A campaigner in Edinburgh protesting about the weekly value of statutory sick pay.
A campaigner in Edinburgh protesting about the weekly value of statutory sick pay. Photograph: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images

Failure to social distance is not only “foolish” and “selfish”, but “insulting to health and care staff”, the UK’s largest union, Unison, said.

Responding to reports that some attractions over the weekend were busier than on a bank holiday, the general secretary, Dave Prentis, said:

Don’t be foolish and think social distancing applies to someone else, not to you and your family. It’s insulting to brave healthcare staff on the front line.

NHS and care employees are putting their lives in danger every day at work. This is so we can all stay safe at home with our loved ones.

But selfish people taking risks are adding to the immense burden on hospitals. We’ve all seen the horrendous situation in Italy with intensive care units overwhelmed.

Going out increases your chances of catching this deadly virus and infecting others. Do what’s right – stay away from other people. It’s the greatest tribute you can pay health and care staff through this crisis.


The House of Commons procedure committee is proposing changes to parliamentary rules that would allow select committees to take evidence and agree reports via video-conferencing, or other remote methods. It has proposed the measures in a letter (pdf) to Mark Spencer, the chief whip. Karen Bradley, the committee chair, said:

The proposals which I have made to the government chief whip would, if adopted by the House, give MPs the ability to participate remotely in committee meetings if necessary and practicable. They also allow for committee reports to be agreed remotely. The committee considers that this is an appropriate response to the rapidly-developing situation.

The Mountain Rescue service in England and Wales has called on people to stop heading to the hills and taking “unnecessary risks” after national parks were inundated on the weekend.

Teams helped search for a five-year-old child missing near waterfalls in south Wales, rescued climbers from Surrey who got into difficulty on Snowden and recovered a man from Kinder Scout in the Peak District who had suffered a heart attack.

Some rescues were hampered after car parks overflowed and vehicles blocked vital access routes.

Mike France, the chief executive officer of Mountain Rescue England and Wales, said it had been a “crazy weekend”. He warned that walkers, cyclists and climbers getting into difficulty might face long waits to be rescued and urged them to stay at home as rescue teams – all comprising volunteers – were depleted as members went into self-isolation.

He said:

Our plea now is stop going to the national parks for your personal isolation because you are putting us in a difficult position.

Please avoid all but essential travel and do not to take any unnecessary risks. If you are going to go out, you should walk, climb or cycle well within your capabilities so that you can keep yourself safe and not need us.


You can follow our Commons live feed as the government puts in emergency legislation to address the coronavirus pandemic.

A reader has been in touch to say he has just had an email from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency saying that MOT tests are still going ahead, even though the government is trying to minimise social contact and coronavirus transmission risks. He does not think that’s wise, and he thinks it is inconsistent, given that MOT tests for lorries have been suspended. But when he raised this with the DVSA, an official replied:

I appreciate this is a difficult time for the whole country, at this moment in time there is no exemption or extension from MOT testing, and no contingency plan in place.

If your vehicle MOT expires whilst you are in isolation, then you are only able to drive the vehicle directly to/from a pre-booked MOT test after midnight on the date of expiry of the current certificate. After that time the vehicle must not be kept on a public road until it is re-tested and taxed etc.

Testing of patients in Northern Ireland has resulted in 20 new positive cases for Covid-19, bringing the total number to 148.

Testing of patients in Northern Ireland has resulted in 20 new positive cases for coronavirus (Covid-19) bringing the total to 148 #COVID19

— Department of Health (@healthdpt) March 23, 2020

In an article for the Guardian, Tim Cook, an intensive care unit (ICU) doctor, says that as hospitals become overwhelmed with coronavirus patients, medics will have to take decisions about who gets care and who doesn’t. Here’s an extract.

The magnitude of the coronavirus pandemic will involve making decisions that, in normal times, doctors aren’t confronted with: decisions about which patients to treat in ICU when not all can be.

In Italy, doctors have been forced to make these choices. This kind of decision-making, known as triage, is a practice borrowed from the battlefield, when doctors had to make decisions about where to focus their stretched resources. Some have stated that “doctors make these decisions all the time”. I disagree. Every day, doctors wrestle with decisions about what is right for the patient in front of them. But when resource-based triage occurs, the decisions become about what is in the “greater good” and “doing the best for the most”.

And here is the full article.

Greater Manchester police (GMP) is the latest organisation to warn that it would not answer Freedom of Information (FOI) requests during the coronavirus outbreak, after the Local Government Association (LGA) argued councils should not have to comply with FOI regulation mid-crisis.

On Monday the LGA, which represents councils in England and Wales, said the government should temporarily “relax” the requirements on councils regarding GDPR data protection regulations and FOI.

GMP put out a message on Monday saying:

As part of Greater Manchester Police resilience and contingency planning, police staff in non-critical roles are being reallocated to support operational policing.

Therefore until further notice the Freedom of Information Act support office will be suspended.

We appreciate the support of the media in keeping the backlog of requests to a minimum by ceasing new requests during this time.

First patients enrolled in clinical trial of possible Covid-19 treatments

The first UK patients have been enrolled in a clinical trial for possible Covid-19 treatments, PA reports.

Researchers from the University of Oxford have launched a new clinical trial to test the effects of potential drug treatments for patients admitted to hospital with the virus.

There are currently no specific treatments for the coronavirus and it is possible some existing drugs used for other conditions may have some benefits.

Scientists say the randomised evaluation of Covid-19 therapy (recovery) trial will provide doctors and the health service with information they need to determine which treatments should be used.

The treatments initially included in the study have been recommended by an expert panel that advises the chief medical officer in England.

They are lopinavir-ritonavir, which is normally used to treat HIV, and the steroid dexamethasone, which is used in a wide range of conditions to reduce inflammation. The side-effects and safety of both drugs are already well known. Other potential treatments will also be assessed by the trial in the future.

Peter Horby, professor of emerging infectious diseases and global health in the Nuffield department of medicine, University of Oxford, and chief investigator for the trial, said:

There is an urgent need for reliable evidence on the best care for patients with Covid-19.

Providing possible new treatments through a well-designed clinical trial is the best way to get that evidence.

All patients will receive the standard full medical care, regardless of which treatment group they are placed in.

Adult inpatients who have tested positive for Covid-19 in NHS hospitals, and not been excluded for medical reasons, will be offered the chance to take part in the trial.

Participants will be allocated at random by computer to receive one of the two drugs being studied or no additional medication.

This will enable researchers to see whether any of the possible new treatments are more or less effective than those currently used for patients with the virus.

Chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty and NHS England medical director Prof Stephen Powis have written to NHS trusts in England asking them to fully support the new trial.


The Methodist church is closing all its church buildings for the foreseeable future.

The only exception will be for churches offering services such as food banks, soup kitchens and night shelters, but these must be carried out closely within government guidelines.

The church suspended services last week with some churches still opening for quiet prayer and reflection. “This must now also be suspended,” it said.

The move comes a day after the Anglican bishops of London, Southwark, Chelmsford and Rochester ordered the closure of church buildings in the capital, which until this weekend were open for private prayer and reflection.

“In doing this we demonstrate how important physical distancing is in saving lives,” they said in a statement.

Play areas and sports facilities in parks in the London borough of Lambeth are now closed after people failed to adhere to government guidance about social distancing, the local council has said.

We're concerned about people ignoring government advice to stay at home, and if you do go out, to keep a safe distance from each other.

As a result, play areas & sports facilities in our parks are now closed to help stop the spread of the virus.

Toilets in parks remain closed.

— Lambeth Council (@lambeth_council) March 23, 2020

A consultant from an NHS hospital within the M25 (he did not want his hospital named) told the Guardian that his hospital was coping at present but he was anticipating a “proper crisis” by Saturday.

While hospitals are increasing bed numbers and ventilators are on the way, he said staffing was key and so personal protective equipment (PPE) for NHS staff and testing was vital. He said:

They keep downgrading the [PPE] specifications in view of the shortages. There’s a real fear among non-frontline staff that they’re just being sold a dummy. The places where they have been most successful in containing spread among healthcare workers they have been much more aggressive with the PPE (giving it to all healthcare workers). The doctors are seeing other vulnerable patients without Covid. If they’re asymptomatic and seeing patients, it’s the perfect medium to spread Covid.

He said one department at his hospital ordered alcoholic hand gel but only got a tenth of the amount they had requested. He said trusts were largely doing what they could but added:

The feeling is the government is putting healthcare workers at risk because of the inefficiency of planning. You’re putting staff in an environment where they feel unsafe to work. You’re putting patients at risk and staff at risk. NHS staff are treating Covid patients and non-Covid patients sequentially all the time.

The consultant said that by distributing the correct specification of PPE among all healthcare workers, countries such as Singapore and South Korea had reduced spread. By contrast, he said:

In Italy the frontline medical workers had an eight times Covid risk than the general public. I haven’t seen anyone spraying the front of my hospital [with disinfectant] like we see in Korea.

On testing, he said:

What you want to do is test early. Then, if they test positive, for all intents and purposes they’re likely to be immune (when they recover). If they don’t have Covid they can work. If they do have Covid, they can self-isolate.

A lot of healthcare workers are in relationships with other healthcare workers. Children have fevers or coughs all the time. If you lose staff for 14 days every time they have a fever or cough or have contact (with someone with symptoms or who has tested positive) that is a problem. We’ve got to test the medical staff and potentially even test their contacts.

The crux of this is having enough doctors and nurses and ventilators. We are in week four of a crisis. In four of five weeks I am probably going to have everyone self-isolating (in my team).


Six ambulances have had their tyres deliberately punctured in Kent, in what must be one of the more depressing acts of mindlessness during the outbreak.

The South East Coast ambulance service said the vehicles were targeted overnight in Thanet, adding the strain of its staff, who were already under “significant pressure”.

The MP Tracey Crouch described whoever did it as “an utter scroat”:

6 ambulances had their tyres punctured last night. I know MPs are supposed to be polite etc but whoever did this is an utter scroat. Just what goes through the mind of someone who does this, nevermind during a pandemic? Thanks to the team for getting them back on the road ASAP

— Tracey Crouch (@tracey_crouch) March 22, 2020


The mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, has called on the government to force people to stay at home to safeguard public health and limit transmission of the coronavirus.

Speaking to Good Morning Britain on ITV, Burnham said there must be “clear arrangements for enforcement” to stop people leaving their homes apart from for essential trips.

The mayor also called on the government to use today’s press briefing to announce a new deal to protect the income of the self-employed and a commitment to house all those sleeping rough with immediate effect.

Burnham said:

We are entering a new phase of this outbreak and the government urgently needs to move to a new policy. We have had too many mixed and confusing messages. Absolute clarity is now needed.

In today’s press briefing, the government needs to announce a new stay at home policy, backing up the powerful calls from NHS staff over the weekend. This policy would allow only a very limited number of exceptions, for instance to collect shopping, and must come with clear arrangements for enforcement.

Picking up the issue of the self-employed only being eligible to receive statutory sick pay, the mayor went on to say:

You also can’t build a sense of national unity if some are having their wages covered but 5 million self-employed people are being told to live on statutory sick pay. The health secretary has said that he couldn’t live on it and nor should we expect others whose earnings have plummeted. This also needs to be corrected today.

Finally, the mayor reiterated his call for the government to house all homeless people:

No person should be forced to sleep on our streets, and there should be an immediate package announced to allow us to get people into safe and secure accommodation.


Rebecca Long-Bailey, the Labour leadership candidate, is calling for the establishment of national food service to help families in need who are self-isolating. As the Independent reports, she said:

Supermarkets have worked incredibly hard to stay stocked and implement their own forms of rationing on essential items but it’s not working. The supermarkets can’t be expected to deliver on their own.

We need a comprehensive and coordinated response from the government that I call the national food service. This service would coordinate the supermarkets and their supply chains and work with Royal Mail so that everyone receives the essentials who needs them. We really can make sure that no one is left behind in this crisis.

Three more prisoners in England test positive for Covid-19

At least three more prisoners in England have tested positive for Covid-19, the BBC’s home affairs correspondent, Danny Shaw, reports. It follows confirmed cases last week in HMP Manchester and in HMP Kilmarnock in Scotland.

PRISONS LATEST At least three more prisoners have tested positive for Covid 19 - at Oakwood, Wymott and Birmingham where the jail has been placed in “lockdown” as a precaution. Last week, there were confirmed cases among inmates at Manchester and Kilmarnock prisons.

— Danny Shaw (@DannyShawBBC) March 23, 2020


Sturgeon says too many people in non-essential jobs, like building and hair dressing, still at work

At her lunchtime briefing Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, reiterated her advice that “if life is carrying on as normal then you are not doing the right thing”. These new measures are essential to slow down the virus and reduce its peak impact, she said.

On pubs and restaurants that are still open she said: “We will within days have emergency powers and we will use them.” She called on shops not providing essential items like food and medicines to close now.

She also had a message for employers in non-essential services:

It was clear this morning that there are too many people across country who are being expect to go to work as normal.

She had been asked specifically about building sites and hair salons; they should close, she said.

Sturgeon said the Scottish government was putting through further measures to support freelances, the self-employed and contract workers, to support businesses in doing the right thing.

Chief medical officer Catherine Calderwood warned again that Scotland is on the cusp of a rapid acceleration of cases in Scotland, saying that the 14 deaths represent up to 1,000 people each who have become infected.

Calderwood said people should go out for exercise once a day but should not mingle outside their family group. She encouraged people “to continue to use the outdoors to keep their mental and physical wellbeing as good as possible, but we are really in this for a marathon not a sprint”.

The Scottish government’s health secretary Jeane Freeman announced a series of new measures: the creation of new community hubs. From now on if patients with coronavirus symptoms are seeking additional advice, they should call 111 and callers will go to one of the new hubs where clinicians will give them advice.

There are also plans to empower community pharmacists by expanding minor ailments model. This will free up GPs to deal with non-Covid-19 cases, Freeman explained.

Downing Street lobby briefing - Summary

Here are the main points from today’s Downing Street lobby briefing. For the first time it was conducted entirely by conference call.

  • The prime minister’s spokesman confirmed that the government is introducing an amendment to the coronavirus emergency powers bill to allow it to be reviewed after six months. (See 11.26am.) Originally a sunset clause in the bill just said it would lapse after two years. The spokesman said the government has now tabled amendment to the bill that will require the parliament to renew the legislation every six months. He said:

We have therefore this morning tabled a government amendment to the bill to require the House of Commons to renew the legislation every six months. Should the Commons decline to renew the temporary provisions, the government will be required to bring forward regulations to ensure that they expire. The two-year time limit for the act overall remains in place, and not all of the measures will come into force immediately.

  • The spokesman said that cabinet would go ahead tomorrow - but that a “significant number” of ministers would be participating via conference call.

It is important for you to look in full at what the prime minister said. He set out that if all of the measures which we were asking people to take were followed, and we were able to make progress in some key areas of science, such as in relation to antibody testing, then we could turn the tide within three months.

  • He said that, if Boris Johnson were to fall ill from coronavirus and be unable to carry out his duties, Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary and first secretary of state, would take over. (See 12.22pm.)
  • The spokesman echoed what Matt Hancock said this morning about further social distancing measures being possible (see 9.54am) but refused to indicate when this might happen. The spokesman said the government would be looking at the data about who many people are still going out - for example, public transport use and footfall in shopping areas - to decide if further measures were necessary.
  • The spokesman could not confirm when today’s coronavirus press conference would take place.
  • The spokesman said the government would soon intensify its public information campaign. He said:

We have been conducting an extensive public information campaign on social distancing measures. I think you could expect much more information to be made available to the public in the coming days as well.

  • The spokesman said the government was still urgently working on measures to help the self-employed (who were not protected by the sweeping employment support package announced by Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, on Friday).
  • The spokesman suggested that most construction workers should not be working. Asked to clarify the guidance, and to say whether builders should carry on working, the spokesman said that if construction work was related to the fight against coronavirus, it was essential. He implied other construction work was not essential.
  • The spokesman was unable to say whether people who have already travelled to a second home to self-isolate are now expected to travel back to their main home. He said he would seek further guidance on this.
10 Downing Street.
10 Downing Street. Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

Scotland death toll rises from 10 to 14

A further four people have died after testing positive for coronavirus in Scotland, taking the total number of deaths there to 14, the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon has announced.

In total 499 people have tested positive for the virus in Scotland, an increase of 83 from Sunday.

Sturgeon said the figures are likely to be an under-estimate.



Global coronavirus death toll passes 15,000

The number of people across the world who have died after contracting coronavirus now stands at 15,308, according to Johns Hopkins University, which has been collating global data. The worldwide number of confirmed cases currently stands at 349,211.

In Spain, one of Europe’s worst hit countries after Italy, the coronavirus death toll in Spain has reached 2,182, adding 462 fatalities overnight. The death toll in Iran from the new coronavirus has increased to 1,812, with 127 new deaths in the past 24 hours.

Upwards curve in infections ‘may be flattening’ in Germany

There were signs that the exponential upwards curve in new coronavirus infections in Germany is levelling off for the first time due to the strict social distancing measures in force, the head of the country’s public health institute has said. However, Lothar Wieler, the president of the Robert Koch Institute, urged caution, saying many health authorities had not yet submitted their data from the weekend. “I will only be able to confirm this trend definitively on Wednesday,” he said. But he said he remained optimistic.

Postponement of Tokyo Olympics under consideration

The head of the Japan Olympic Committee (JOC) said on Monday he had to consider postponing the Games among his options amid increasing calls from committees around the world to delay the Olympics due to the coronavirus outbreak. “From the athletes’ point of view of safety and security, we have to come to a stage where we cannot help but consider things including postponement,” JOC President Yasuhiro Yamashita told reporters on Monday. However, he said too long a delay would be a burden to athletes given the possibility of having to qualify again, for example.

Britain warns tougher measures on movement may be on way

Britain’s health secretary has accused those still socialising of “very selfish” behaviour that risks the lives of NHS workers and others, as he signalled tougher restrictions on movement are likely to be on the way. The health secretary, Matt Hancock, said stricter rules such as curfews or further closures could come into place “very soon” and urged people still socialising or going to holiday locations to “stop it, and if you don’t stop it then we’re going to have to take more measures.”


WHSmith has insisted it is an “essential retailer” akin to supermarkets and pharmacies as it vowed to keep open its 1,200 stores in the wake of the coronavirus shutdown.

The high-street newsagent has prompted anger among some of its staff who said they had not been provided protective equipment, such as hand sanitiser or gloves, and had only stopped accepting cash on Monday.

The Guardian understands that several staff at a WHSmith branch in Hertfordshire refused to go into work on Monday morning due to coronavirus concerns, while the parent of an employee at another branch said her son “came home almost in tears” on Sunday as stores remained busy in spite of the UK semi-lockdown.

The 227-year-old firm, which operates more than 600 high street stores and more than 600 airport branches, is one of a plummeting number of retailers choosing to stay open amid the outbreak. Nando’s, Costa Coffee and Subway all announced temporary closures on Monday, while Waterstones will shut its 280 branches at the end of the day.

In a letter to staff last week, the WHSmith chief executive, Carl Cowling, wrote that the company would be “positioning ourselves to government as an ‘essential retailer’”. He added:

In our High Street stores, we have a retail offer that extends to every generation. We can provide essential products to our younger pre-school customers; an unrivalled education officer with accompanying stationery range to children, teenagers and students; a fantastic books offer for everyone; and a news and magazines offer that can’t be beaten, enabling communities to access information and keep up to date with what is happening at the current time.

Cowling said the company’s priority was the health and wellbeing of its employees and that it was monitoring the health of staff. On Monday WHSmith stopped accepting cash and put in place social distancing measures at tills.

A staff notice issued on Monday said hand sanitiser and protective gloves should be available for all stores. However, WHSmith employees who spoke to the Guardian said they felt their health was being put at risk.

“I was shocked and appalled by how busy our store was on Saturday and people’s disregard for safety,” said one member of staff.

It’s putting the general public and ourselves at risk. We don’t want to be there but we feel like we have to.

If the government aren’t going to close all non-essential retailers and people aren’t going to stay in their homes, I think businesses have to take the responsible action.

[To stay open] is not only irresponsible, we feel it is despicable.

A spokeswoman for WHSmith said:

We are very proud of our colleagues, who are doing an outstanding job in serving our customers with key products, such as educational materials, food, drinks and newspapers. WHSmith also provides vital services such as the Post Office, and serving NHS staff in our hospital stores. We have served our communities for over 227 years and we continue to support our customers during this challenging time.

Our key priority is the health and wellbeing of colleagues and customers. We have introduced additional measures to keep everyone safe and supported and all staff have been reminded of the company benevolent fund at this time. We will continue to monitor and follow government and PHE advice very closely.


The Guardian wants to tell the stories of Britons who have contracted and recovered from coronavirus here in the UK, to inform other readers of what they may face and to shed light on the health service’s ability to help individuals fighting the disease.

We are particularly interested in hearing from those who were either asymptomatic or suffered light symptoms, or those whose ordeal was more serious and included a spell in hospital. So if you have been diagnosed with coronavirus and have shaken it off, or are on the mend, please get in contact Damien Gayle, a Guardian national news reporter, on email at, or via his Twitter profile, @damiengayle.

You can also get in touch via WhatsApp by clicking here or adding the contact +44(0)7867825056. Your responses are secure as the form is encrypted and only the Guardian has access to your contributions.


Deaths in Wales rise by four to 16

A further four patients in Wales who tested positive for coronavirus have died, bringing the total to 16, Public Health Wales said.

Dr Giri Shankar, incident director for the coronavirus outbreak response at Public Health Wales, said they had 71 new cases testing positive for Covid-19, which brings the total number of confirmed cases in Wales to 418, though the true number of cases is likely to be higher.

The Welsh government is writing to all GPs and vulnerable individuals in Wales with details of the latest shielding guidance, he said.


Dominic Raab will take charge if PM falls ill from coronavirus, No 10 confirms

The Downing Street lobby briefing has just finished. For the first time it took place entirely by conference call. And it was embargoed until it finished.

Here is one of the more interesting lines.

  • Dominic Raab will take charge of the government if the PM falls ill from coronavirus, the prime minister’s spokesman said. The spokesman stressed that Boris Johnson was well. But he said that Raab, the foreign secretary, would take over if Johnson could not carry out his duties because Raab is also first secretary of state.

I will post a full summary shortly.

'Something has to change' - Labour says PM must urgently enforce social distancing

The Labour party is calling for stricter enforcement of social distancing. In an official statement issued on behalf of the party, echoing what Sir Keir Starmer, the favourite in the leadership contest has also said (see 10.58am), Jonathan Ashworth, 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.

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.


The congestion charge and the ultra low emissions zone charge have been suspended as of today in London to help health workers, emergency service and other key workers move around the capital.

Transport for London said however the public should not exploit this as a licence to drive around London for free.

Chris Macleod, customer director at TfL, said:

This move has been made to ensure London’s critical workers, particularly those in the NHS, are able to travel round London as easily as possible during this national emergency.

It also supports the supply chain, the effort to keep supermarkets fully stocked and the city’s continued operation.

Government advice is that people need to limit social contact and travel should only be undertaken if absolutely necessary.

The roads need to be kept clear for the emergency services and critical workers who need to get around by car. Drivers are asked to consider the wider implications when thinking about using their vehicles.

Public transport is still the best way for critical workers to travel where possible … For some of these workers, in the current circumstances driving to work will be the simplest option, which is why the charges have been lifted.


The Scottish health secretary has had to tell off one of her own MSPs after he tweeted that he would be keeping his office open to conduct surgeries with constituents.

Jeane Freeman retweeted John Mason with the comment: “John please don’t do this. Follow the clear health guidance – you are neither an exception nor exceptional.”

John please don’t do this. Follow the clear health guidance - you are neither an exception nor exceptional.

— Jeane Freeman (@JeaneF1MSP) March 23, 2020

The UK’s Freemasons are taking the unusual step of inviting non-members to participate in a “virtual” toast at 9pm tonight, to remember loved ones who might be self-isolating as well as frontline NHS workers.

The 200,000-strong organisation traditionally toasts “absent brethren” to remember those who are unable to attend their meetings in person at the dinner that takes place afterwards.

The organisation is adapting its usual 9pm toast and inviting everyone to join in using #TimetoToast to toast ‘absent friends, and those working on the frontline in the NHS’.

Dr David Staples, chief executive of the United Grand Lodge of England, said:

We want everyone to join in at 9pm tonight and raise a glass to those we cannot be with in person due to the huge challenges facing the country. Stay safe, self-isolate but know that you are not alone.


A message for people to stay at home from Theo Usherwood, political editor of LBC, who has spent the last few weeks recovering after being diagnosed with pneumonia and was suspected of having Covid-19. It reads:

Hoping to be allowed home today.

Just a short note to say thank you for all the love. I felt it so strongly during the darkness last week.

I so desperately want the wonderful NHS staff who saved my life, to save the lives of thousands of others too.

Please stay at home.

Hoping to be allowed home today.

Just a short note to say thank you for all the love. I felt it so strongly during the darkness last week.

I so desperately want the wonderful NHS staff who saved my life, to save the lives of thousands of others too.

Please stay at home.

— Theo Usherwood (@theousherwood) March 23, 2020

Morrisons has reduced its fuel prices by 12p per litre for petrol and 8p per litre for diesel.

The supermarket described the move as “the biggest fuel price reduction in recent times”.

It will be effective on all Morrisons fuel forecourts today.

Ashley Myers, head of fuel for Morrisons, said:

We are playing our full part in reducing the cost of living and feeding the nation. This reduction in fuel prices will help motorists to save money at this difficult time. It’s more than our job.

For a typical 50-litre fill up, motorist will save £6 on unleaded and £4 on diesel.

Our consumer affairs correspondent, Rebecca Smithers, writes:

Responding to the fuel cuts announced by supermarket chain Morrisons, Simon Williams of the RAC motoring group said:

These unprecedented times are leading to unprecedented price cuts on fuel – the largest single cut from a retailer we’ve ever seen. The price of oil has fallen so far – down to an 18-year low – that it was inevitable that pump prices would eventually follow suit.

These savings will directly benefit those people who continue to rely on their vehicles for essential journeys. It is vital however that drivers heed government advice and only travel if it absolutely needed.

Drivers can expect to see petrol sold at supermarket forecourts for around 104p per litre as a result of these cuts, a price last seen nearly four years ago. Diesel should drop to around 111p per litre, and it was last sold at this sort of price in July 2017.

But Williams warned that there was “a darker side” to the price cuts.

Smaller independent forecourts who will already have been struggling due to a loss of trade recently will be extremely hard-pushed to reduce their prices at the present time with fewer people driving.

It’s crucial they stay in business as they provide such an important service to drivers in parts of the country where the supermarkets have no footprint.


Jeremy Corbyn’s son is self-isolating in line with government advice for anyone with symptoms of Covid-19, Sky News understands.

Sources told Sky that Seb Corbyn – who works for the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell – has not recently been in contact with McDonnell or his father.


A powerful video from frontline medics from Belfast Health and Social care trust urging people to stay at home has gone viral, racking up more than 1.4m views since it was uploaded last night.

One of the 20 healthcare workers (who stand two metres apart from each other in the video), a respiratory consultant called Angela, says:

We are now at a crucial time, this is not a rehearsal, you will only have one chance at this.

Stay at home.

Now is the time to stay at home. Our respiratory team have a clear message- stay at home to save lives #stayathome #fightback #COVID19 #jointhefightback

— Belfast Trust (@BelfastTrust) March 22, 2020


Later today MPs will debate all stages of the coronavirus emergency powers bill. It gives extensive powers to ministers – there is a good summary here – and in a normal circumstances it would be hugely controversial. Instead it is expected to be passed with cross-party support.

Controversy has focused on the sunset clause in the bill, which says its provisions will lapse after two years. Opposition MPs, as well as the Tory libertarian David Davis, have tabled amendments saying the sunset clause should kick in after six months, or a year, not two years. According to the BBC’s Norman Smith, the government is going to address these concerns by including a six-month renewal clause in the legislation.

Govt will introduce a 6 month renewal clause to the emergency powers it is seeking in the Coronavirus bill.

— norman smith (@BBCNormanS) March 23, 2020


As many people with children around the country take to homeschooling from today, NewsWise have created a set of activities, links, tips and advice to help families learn more about the news together. You can access all the resources here.

The news literacy project for nine-11-year-olds set up by the Guardian Foundation, National Literacy Trust and PSHE Association, would normally be delivering workshops in schools around the country, so instead they are helping parents re-create some of that learning at home.

A few useful purposes, much needed at the moment, include helping kids not be afraid of the news, helping families learn how to identify fake news and also keeping kids entertained in an educational way.


And the Labour party is appealing to people working in PR and advertising to work on a pro bono basis (ie, for free) producing adverts designed to stop people panic buying. And advertisers should use some of their advertising budgets to pay for these to go out, Labour says. This is from Luke Pollard, the shadow environment secretary.

Panic buying is causing real harm to vulnerable groups and creating anxiety amongst all. We need people to shop sensibly and that is why Labour has been calling for a new national advertising campaign from the government.

Ministers have not reacted fast enough or far enough, and that is why Labour is calling for a mobilisation of advertising and PR agencies to create new TV adverts, newspaper, digital and billboard advertising to take on panic buying. Those who specialise in persuading us to buy products now have the opportunity to save lives with their work. Please step up and help. We need people to do the right thing at this time of national crisis: shop sensibly, stay at home and slow the spread of the virus.

A man wearing a mask walking over the Millennium Bridge in London this morning.
A man wearing a mask walking over the Millennium Bridge in London this morning. Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

The jury in the Old Bailey trial of three teenagers for the murder of PC Andrew Harper has been discharged due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Last week, the jury dropped from 12 men and women to 10 due to jurors going into self-isolation.

This morning, Mr Justice Edis made a statement in court that the remaining jurors were discharged and the trial adjourned. He said he had made the decision with a “heavy heart” after a third juror went into isolation over the weekend. He said:

It is with great regret that I have decided to discharge the jury and to adjourn this trial. I have taken this decision with a heavy heart because I am acutely conscious of the need of those who loved Police Constable Harper, who would have been 29 yesterday, for this process to come to a conclusion.

The judge set a review hearing on 1 June to set a date for the trial to start again. The defendants remain custody until the fresh trial on a date to be fixed.

More than a dozen high-profile Old Bailey trials had already been postponed following measures to delay the spread of Covid-19. Last Tuesday, it was announced that upcoming criminal trials lasting more than three days would be put off.


Starmer calls for tougher social distancing restrictions

Sir Keir Starmer, the favourite in the Labour leadership contest, is urging the government to imposed tougher social distancing restrictions. In a statement he said:

I know there is growing anxiety about the spread of the coronavirus, the severe pressures on our National Health Service and the risk to people’s lives.

Labour has supported the social distancing measures that have been introduced.

However, in these extraordinary times, the government must now set out further compliance measures, such as those introduced in other countries. 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.

Time Out magazine is to cease printing for the first time since 1968 and hopes to return after the pandemic, our media editor, Jim Waterson, reports. The magazine has temporarily rebranded as “Time In” as it focuses on online content.

Time Out magazine to cease printing for first time since 1968 and hopes to return after the pandemic. Until then it's going to rebrand as Time In.

— Jim Waterson (@jimwaterson) March 23, 2020

All children’s play areas in Cardiff have been closed to the public, the council announced. Parks in the city will remain open but could be closed if people do not observe social distancing.

A spokesman for the council said:

The risk of transmission from child to child on play equipment is thought to represent too great a risk to the public as we seek to slow the transmission of Covid-19.

Play areas in Cardiff Council's parks are to close with immediate effect.

For more info, visit: #COVID-19 #Coronavirus

— Cardiff Council (@cardiffcouncil) March 23, 2020

The Times has published a lengthy leader column today (paywall) criticising Boris Johnson’s handling of the coronavirus so far. There is nothing particularly surprising about its arguments – you will have read many of them in the Guardian, where our leader today says “as we career into highly dangerous and uncharted waters, it is right to ask whether our ship’s captain is up to the job” - but Johnson expects to be criticised by the Guardian. If the Times is having a go at him too, that will cause more concern in No 10.

On the plus side for Johnson, the Times leader is qualified. The general thrust of it is more “must do better” than “completely useless”. Here is an extract.

The truth is that [Boris Johnson’s] performance so far has been chequered. Since the start he has appeared behind the curve. Considerable time that could have been spent preparing for the crisis appears to have been squandered. The World Health Organisation first warned of the risk of a deadly global pandemic in mid-January, by which point the coronavirus was spreading rapidly in China and parts of Asia. Yet the government spent much of February apparently distracted with fights with some of Britain’s institutions, including the civil service, the judiciary and the BBC. Even at the time many questioned why the prime minister disappeared from view for a week in the middle of the month to his grace-and-favour home in Kent. He did not preside over his first Cobra meeting to discuss the crisis until March 3. Even as the scale became apparent, Mr Johnson’s response to it has been uneven. For the most of the first half of March, the official advice was simply to wash one’s hands. On March 12, as countries across Europe and the world closed schools, restaurants, bars and shops and introduced lockdowns and travel bans, the government merely advised that those ill with coronavirus symptoms should self-isolate for seven days ...

Mr Johnson’s liberal instincts and reluctance to restrict civil liberties would normally be admirable. But dithering over whether to shut schools, bars and restaurants, combined with anonymous briefings warning of imminent lockdowns that are then ruled out by ministers, may have only made the crisis worse. Panicked shoppers have stripped supermarkets of supplies while many Londoners will have escaped to the country, almost certainly further spreading the virus. City traders say that doubts about Mr Johnson’s response contributed to the run on sterling. Britain’s death toll is now at the same level as Italy’s two weeks ago, yet already one hospital says that it has been overwhelmed and the NHS is warning of shortages of ventilators and protective clothing ...

And if the government is forced to introduce even more stringent restrictions to halt an escalating epidemic, they may ask why they weren’t introduced sooner, as they have been in much of the rest of the world. The country needs to know that Mr Johnson has a coherent strategy. Otherwise the prime minister who dreamt of being Churchill may find himself cast as Neville Chamberlain.


Health minister Nadine Dorries is returning to work in Westminster after recovering from Covid-19.

She said on Twitter:

Good to be back in the saddle and able to play my part to help our PM, cabinet and the scientists who are working around the clock to keep us safe and #SaveLives.

On my way back to @DHSCgovuk and Parliament for the passing of the #coronavirus bill. Good to be back in the saddle and able to play my part to help our PM, cabinet and the scientists who are working around the clock to keep us safe and #SaveLives

— Nadine Dorries 🇬🇧 (@NadineDorries) March 23, 2020

Laura Ashley is the latest retail casualty of the coronavirus outbreak. After the fashion and furnishings retailer went into administration earlier this month, the impact of the pandemic has been blamed for tipping it over the edge.

It has announced the permanent closure of 70 stores, with 721 employees set to lose their jobs, and has said it will continue to trade from its remaining 77 UK stores, which will remain open while online operations also continue to trade.

Laura Ashley filed for administration last month while the number of coronavirus cases grew around the world.
Laura Ashley filed for administration last month while the number of coronavirus cases grew around the world. Photograph: Paul Childs/Reuters

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, is holding a live Q&A on coronavirus with Young Scot, a Scottish youth charity.

🔴We're LIVE with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon @ScotGovFM and National Clinical Director @jasonleitch answering young people's questions about coronavirus (COVID-19)!

📱Tune in now!


— Young Scot (@YoungScot) March 23, 2020

People should not be visiting holiday or second homes and should remain in their primary residence, the government has said.

Adding to its guidance on instructing people to avoid all non-essential travel and to practise social distancing, the government said:

Essential travel does not include visits to second homes, camp sites, caravan parks or similar, whether for isolation purposes or holidays.

People should remain in their primary residence.

Not taking these steps puts additional pressure on communities and services that are already at risk.

During the coronavirus pandemic, people should avoid travelling unless it is essential. This means you should avoid visiting holiday or second homes.

Find out more:

— DCMS (@DCMS) March 22, 2020

Two NHS consultants have proposed a system of mass population testing for Covid-19, with 500,000 frontline NHS staff to be tested every week, followed by the vulnerable, the contagious and those who have recovered from the disease.

Nick Morris, a London-based obstetrician, and Sanjeev Silva, an ENT surgeon, are seeking government approval to import thousands of testing kits from China. They say they are concerned that “highly exposed” NHS staff are currently not being tested as the pandemic takes hold and the UK hurtles towards Italy-style levels of infection.

In a letter sent to the former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who chairs the Commons health committee, they estimate that the real number of infected cases in the UK is likely to be 15 times higher than “recorded” cases of those tested so far, which only takes place in hospitals. On current numbers this would mean around 150,000 people currently have the virus in the UK, with the vast majority undiagnosed. Morris writes:

Germany has been testing at least four times as many people per population, and as a result has the lowest morbidity per capita of cases recorded in Europe. I attribute their success is by testing people and catching a positive test in their initial asymptomatic phase of infection, ie the first 5 days after inoculation before they notice symptoms. By quarantining this cohort early, it slows down spread and applied nationally will ‘flatten the curve’.

The new recorded UK cases are ‘probably’ 1/15th the actual cases. The problem is ‘probably’. Testing will allow the NHS to prepare for the cases. Our model will define this.

The consultants argue that mass testing in line with their proposals will save more than 70% of deaths estimated over the next six months, mostly patients over 60. They have written to Boris Johnson and spoken to Hunt and to Labour’s Keir Starmer. They suggest air-freighting medically certified kits from China and immediately setting up a network of testing centres “right across the country”. These could be administered in drive-through locations and sent as postal kits, to avoid the virus spreading.


Nando’s, Costa Coffee and Subway are the latest restaurant chains to close all of their UK outlets due to the coronavirus outbreak. It comes after the prime minister ordered all restaurants, pubs and clubs to close on Friday as soon as possible, after he came under significant pressure to put in place more stringent measures to enforce social distancing.

All 420 Nando’s outlets will shut “until further notice”, with takeaway and delivery services also suspended.

Lots of love, Nando’s ❤

— Nando's (@NandosUK) March 22, 2020

Similarly, Costa Coffee announced that it will temporarily close all its cafes from this evening. In a Twitter statement, it said it would try to keep cafes open in hospitals, with NHS staff to receive free coffee for the next two weeks.

See you all soon... With you ☕❤️

— Costa Coffee (@CostaCoffee) March 23, 2020

All of Subway’s stores in the UK and Ireland will close from 5pm today.

Stay safe out there. We’ll be back soon 💚💛

— Subway® UK (@SubwayUK) March 23, 2020

These developments come after fast-food giant McDonald’s announced all of its restaurants in the UK and Ireland would close by 7pm this evening.

An update from McDonald’s UK and Ireland — See you soon

— McDonald's UK (@McDonaldsUK) March 22, 2020

KFC and Burger King remain open for takeaways, with seating areas temporarily closed.


Hancock rejects claims Johnson has been too slow and vague in imposing social distancing

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has given a series of interviews this morning. Here are the main points he has been making.

  • Hancock confirmed that the government was considering moving towards a European-style near-curfew, which would involve people being told not to leave home unless they had a specific reason for doing so. Asked if this was an option, he replied:

Of course we’re looking at what other European countries are doing ... All the way through we have said we are prepared to take the actions that are necessary, and we are.

He said that parks, where people did not observe the two-metre rule, were a particular problem. Asked if there could be stricter enforcement of these rules, he said:

I can’t say any more on the detail of it because these are discussions that are live, that are ongoing and we are considering it.

  • He did not rule out the government using the police to enforce social distancing rules. Asked if the government might have to use the police, he replied:

Yes, and in fact on Saturday I signed the order to give the police the power to shut restaurants and bars and pubs if they’re still open. This isn’t the sort of thing that I wanted to do. But it’s the sort of thing that as a nation we’ve got to be prepared to see in order to stop this virus.

The Daily Mail’s Jason Groves says he thought Hancock sounded like someone arguing behind the scenes for a full lockdown.

Listening to health sec Matt Hancock it is pretty plain he's pushing for a full lock down. Condemns 'v.selfish' people still going out and confirms police could be told to order people to stay at home except for urgent tasks

— Jason Groves (@JasonGroves1) March 23, 2020
  • Hancock rejected claims that Boris Johnson had been too slow to introduce restrictive measures. When this suggestion was put to him, he replied:

If you’d seen how hard the prime minister is working, like I have, every day from first thing in the morning until last thing at night, we are doing everything we possibly can to keep people safe. And the actions that we have taken over the last week ... are unprecedented. And taking those decisions is a huge thing.

He also rejected the suggestion that Johnson did not deliver a clear message about social distancing at his press conference yesterday. When this was put to him, Hancock said:

Well, the message yesterday was incredibly clear, and it is across every single front page, which is that if people don’t follow the rules, we are going to have to get tougher still.

  • Hancock said that people who were ignoring the two-metre distance rule in parks yesterday were “very selfish” and were putting lives at risk. Asked why people were ignoring the guidance, he replied:

Well, I don’t know, because it is very selfish. The NHS is doing everything it can and preparing for this spread of this virus. And if people go within two metres of others who they don’t live with, then they are helping to spread the virus, and the consequence of that costs lives, and it means for everyone this will on for longer.

The first words of that answer were also interesting, because Hancock claimed not to know why people were ignoring the two-metre rule. Others have argued that people are ignoring this rule because Johnson and his government have not spelled it out with sufficient clarity. This is what Rosena Allin-Khan, a candidate for the Labour deputy leadership and an A&E doctor told the Today programme this morning, having spent the weekend working in her local hospital. She said:

The prime minister simply said yesterday he wants people to enjoy themselves outside while also saying that people should stay two metres apart outdoors. This relaxed style, mixed messaging will cost lives and I believe people are struggling to follow guidelines because they are just not clear.

The Labour MP Yvette Cooper has also posted a detailed critique of the government’s messaging in a Twitter thread starting here.

I watched the Prime Minister’s press conference in despair. In a public health emergency communication and information saves lives. Yet time & again the Government keeps failing to push out a strong clear message to everyone. For all our sakes they urgently need to get a grip.

— Yvette Cooper (@YvetteCooperMP) March 22, 2020
  • Hancock said that he hoped that the testing of medical staff for coronavirus would take place “as soon as possible”. He said:

We are rapidly expanding testing. We have been buying testing kits over this weekend and all of last week to make sure we have as much as possible.

  • He said he was looking at making parking free for NHS staff.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock reveals on #BBCBreakfast the government is looking at making parking free for workers in #NHS England amid the #COVIDー19 outbreak.
More here:

— BBC Breakfast (@BBCBreakfast) March 23, 2020


Sturgeon tells Scots: If your life feels normal, you're probably not following advice properly

Nicola Sturgeon has appeared on BBC Radio Scotland this morning to answer listeners’ questions, and press home her plea to Scots to stay at home. She said:

Your life shouldn’t feel normal right now, so if it does, ask yourself why that’s the case. Every time you think about meeting up with people outside your own family group ask yourself if that is necessary …. While it’s fine to go out for some fresh air with one or two other people you should not be crowding into parks or on to beaches.

Sturgeon acknowledged that there are “big mental health implications of what we’re asking people to do right now”, adding:

It’s important to get some fresh air but if you go out, follow the advice, go on your own or with one or two others preferably within your family group.

Ten people have now died in Scotland, and Sturgeon said that the country was moving into surveillance testing to give a more accurate picture of infections.

We are on the cusp of a rapid acceleration, which may be quicker than we had previously thought.

Addressing listeners’ concerns on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland, she responded to many questions about a variety of roles where workers are still on the job, including postal workers, those on building sites.

If the work is not essential then you should not be expecting workers to come to work ... there is support in place to allow businesses to pay wages and a range of other support in place. If possible people should be at home.

Asked about workers in rural areas, especially those returning to islands to help with lambing, she said that the rules applied across the country, and continued to urge people not to flock to the remote Scottish countryside

There’s an understandable human instinct that you can outrun this virus: you can’t outrun this virus. When people go to these areas they take it with them but take it to areas where it will put even greater pressure on essential services and health services.

Sturgeon was also praised for maintaining a sense of humour after she retweeted a clip from the voice-over comic Janey Godley offered a more robust interpretation of her ‘stay at home’ advice.

I would *never* use language like this, obvs 😉 - but we could all do with a smile just now. And if humour helps get the message across...

— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) March 22, 2020


Jury trials on hold in England and Wales due to coronavirus fears

All jury trials in England and Wales will be put on hold as part of the ongoing efforts to halt the spread of Covid-19. We’ve got more details in a story here.

Here is the full guidance issued this morning to courts by the lord chief justice, Lord Burnett. And here is an extract from what he is saying:

My unequivocal position is that no jury trials or other physical hearings can take place unless it is safe for them to do so. A particular concern is to ensure social distancing in court and in the court building.

This morning no new trials are to start. Jurors summoned for this week are being contacted to ask them to remain at home, and contact the court they are due to attend. They will only be asked to come in for trials where specific arrangements to ensure safety have been put in place. In some cases, this may mean that jurors may be called in to start a new trial later on Monday. All hearings in the crown court that can lawfully take place remotely should do so and other hearings not involving a jury should continue if suitable arrangements can be made to ensure distancing.

The lord chief justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon.
The lord chief justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon. Photograph: Kirsty O’Connor/PA


This is from Laura Kuenssberg, the BBC’s political editor.

Govt considering next steps like closing non-essential retail or whether to start treating people flouting the stay at home advice as acting against the law - all being discussed - huge decisions, nothing final

— Laura Kuenssberg (@bbclaurak) March 23, 2020

British rail franchise agreements suspended

The government is effectively nationalising the state’s railways for a temporary period, it has been announced, my colleague Ben Quinn reports. He has more details here.

This is from the BBC’s Faisal Islam, whose tweet contains a link to the government press release giving details of the announcement.

Rail franchises basically temporarily nationalised - all revenue and cost risk now on Government, and franchises will run service, after passenger numbers fell 70% - significant action to keep the wheels turning on the system for at least six months.

— Faisal Islam (@faisalislam) March 23, 2020

And this is from Grant Shapps, the transport secretary.

I've just announced an Emergency Measures Agreement to keep the railway running for key workers, plus fee-free refunds for all advance tickets passengers. Find out more:

— Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP (@grantshapps) March 23, 2020

Hancock condemns people ignoring two-metre distance rule in parks as 'very selfish'

Good morning. There is a common theme on today’s newspaper front pages, which largely splash on what Boris Johnson said at his coronavirus press conference yesterday and which sum up his message like this:

Monday’s GUARDIAN: Johnson’s ultimatum: obey the rules or risk strict lockdown #TomorrowsPapersToday

— Helen Miller (@MsHelicat) March 22, 2020

Monday’s TIMES: Curfew threat to stop virus #TomorrowsPapersToday

— Helen Miller (@MsHelicat) March 22, 2020

Monday’s TELEGRAPH: 24 hours to avoid complete lockdown #TomorrowsPapersToday

— Helen Miller (@MsHelicat) March 22, 2020

Monday’s MAIL: Obey the virus rules -or else #TomorrowsPapersToday

— Helen Miller (@MsHelicat) March 22, 2020

Tomorrow's Front Page: Boris Johnson tells Brits to self-isolate or face tougher measures

— The Sun (@TheSun) March 22, 2020

Here is my colleague Peter Walker’s story with the full details.

Johnson, who has been accused of muddling the government’s messaging over social distancing (more on that soon) was reluctant yesterday to sound too critical of people who had gone to parks and outdoor spaces at the weekend and ignored the advice to say at least two metres away from other people. But this morning, in an interview on the Today programme, Matt Hancock, the health secretary, was much blunter. They were being “very selfish”, he said. Asked why people were ignoring the guidance, he replied:

Well, I don’t know, because it is very selfish. The NHS is doing everything it can and preparing for this spread of this virus. And if people go within two metres of others who they don’t live with, then they are helping to spread the virus, and the consequence of that costs lives, and it means for everyone this will on for longer.

I will post more from his interview soon.

Here is the agenda for the day.

11am: Downing Street lobby briefing.

2.30pm: Priti Patel, the home secretary, takes questions in the Commons.

After 3.30pm: MPs debate the coronavirus emergency powers bill. It is due to pass all its Commons stages by the end of the day.

Afternoon: The government is expected to hold its daily coronavirus press conference.

We will be covering all UK coronavirus developments, as well as any non-coronavirus political developments (if there are any). You can read all the latest Guardian coronavirus articles here, you can read all the latest Guardian politics articles here and here is the Politico Europe roundup of this morning’s political news.

If you want to follow me or contact me on Twitter, I’m on @AndrewSparrow Lucy is on @lucy_campbell_.

I try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter.



Andrew Sparrow, Lucy Campbell and Kevin Rawlinson

The GuardianTramp

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