Coronavirus: Councils to get powers to shut down businesses and cancel events, says PM

Swift local lockdowns – including the shutting down of businesses, cancellation of events and restrictions on travel to certain areas – will aim to control future COVID-19 outbreaks.

Boris Johnson outlined the plan to contain localised flare-ups in COVID-19 infections as he expressed his hope of a “more significant return to normality” by Christmas.

As well as handing new powers to local councils and government ministers to act on future coronavirus outbreaks, the prime minister also set out an updated roadmap for lifting remaining national restrictions.

This includes:

  • the reopening of bowling alleys, ice-skating rinks, casinos and close contact beauty treatments from 1 August;
  • the restarting of indoor performances, subject to the success of trials;
  • the piloting of larger gatherings in venues like sports stadiums, with a view to a wider reopening in the autumn;
  • and the permitting of wedding recpetions for up to 30 people.

Speaking at a Downing Street news conference, the prime minister also announced, from 1 August, there would be updated government advice on people going to work.

“Instead of government telling people to work from home, we are going to give employers more discretion, and ask them to make decisions about how their staff can work safely,” he said.

“That could mean of course continuing to work from home, which is one way of working safely and which has worked for many employers and employees.

“Or it could mean making workplaces safe by following COVID-secure guidelines.”

On public transport, Mr Johnson added: “From today we are making clear that anybody may use public transport, while of course encouraging people to consider alternative means of transport where they are available.”

The prime minister expressed his hope that the government would be able to review outstanding restrictions and “allow a more significant return to normality from November at the earliest, possibly in time for Christmas”.

However, Mr Johnson warned he would “not hesitate at any stage to put on the brakes” on the lockdown easing and stressed his plans remain “conditional” on rates of infection.

“If we continue to pull together as we have done so far, I know we can beat this virus,” he said.

“Hoping for the best, but planning for the worst – and it’s in that spirit that we must carry on waging this long, hard fight against coronavirus.”

Outlining the new powers for councils to enforce local lockdowns, the prime minister said: “From tomorrow local authorities will have new powers in their areas.

“They will be able to close specific premises, shut public outdoor spaces and cancel events.

“These powers will enable local authorities to act more quickly in response to outbreaks where speed is paramount.

“Action by local councils will not always be sufficient, so next week we’ll publish draft regulations which clearly set out how central government can intervene more effectively at a local level.

“Where justified by the evidence, ministers will be able to close whole sectors or types of premises in an area, introduce local ‘stay at home’ orders, prevent people entering or leaving defined areas, reduce the maximum size of gatherings beyond national rules, or restrict transport systems serving local areas.”

Analysis: Summer holidays might be beginning but PM ‘s focus is on the winter

By Tom Rayner, political correspondent

The summer holidays may be right around the corner, but the prime minister’s focus was almost entirely on winter.

He acknowledged the ominous risk of a “more virulent” second wave of coronavirus colliding with the annual pressures caused by seasonal flu.

Local lockdowns, he said, would be likely for the foreseeable future.

As for social distancing, Mr Johnson made clear the regulations will be in place until November at the earliest – with only a hesitant suggestion they would be lifted this year, “possibly in time for Christmas”, he added.

It had been suggested the prime minister might use the moment to scrap the government’s “work from home if you can” message, to encourage a wider return of commuters to urban centres.

Instead, he fudged the existing advice – saying simply that employers would be given more discretion.

While Mr Johnson did set out how far the virus has receded since the peak, it all felt rather a long way from his claim in March that the UK would “turn the tide” on the virus within 12 weeks.

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