British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered people to stay in their homes to try to halt the spread of coronavirus.

As deaths from the virus in Britain jumped by 54 to 335, the government said the military would help ship millions of items of personal protective equipment (PPE) including masks to healthcare workers who have complained of shortages.

“From this evening I must give the British people a very simple instruction – you must stay at home,” Johnson said in a televised address to the nation, replacing his usual daily news conference.

Johnson said people would only be allowed to leave their homes for basic necessities: exercise, for a medical need, to provide care or travelling to and from work where absolutely necessary.

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

The government will close all shops selling non-essential goods, Johnson said, including clothing stores, as well as other premises including libraries, playgrounds and outdoor gyms, and places of worship.

The measures will be reviewed in three weeks.

Advice to stay at home and avoid social gatherings went unheeded by millions at the weekend who took advantage of sunny weather to flock to parks and beauty spots, ignoring instructions to stay 2m apart.

A man wears a medical mask as a precaution against coronavirus at deserted Leicester Square in London, United Kingdom on March 23, 2020.

A man wears a medical mask as a precaution against coronavirus at deserted Leicester Square in London, United Kingdom on March 23, 2020. Photo: AFP

Army to deliver protective gear

With some doctors saying they felt like “cannon fodder”, the government said the military would help ship millions of items of personal protective equipment (PPE) including masks to healthcare workers who have complained of shortages.

Deaths from the virus in Britain jumped to 335 as authorities step up action to try to limit the spread of the disease and prevent a repeat of the death toll seen in other countries where thousands have died.

In a letter pleading with Johnson to increase PPE supplies, more than 6,000 frontline doctors said they were being asked to put their lives at risk with out-of-date masks, and low stocks of equipment.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock admitted there had been issues but promised action was being taken. He said the army would drive trucks throughout the day and night to get supplies to medical staff.

“It’s like a war effort – it is a war against this virus and so the army have been incredibly helpful in getting those logistics so we can get the supplies to protect people on the front line,” he told the BBC, saying the health service now had 12,000 ventilators, 7,000 more than at the start of the crisis.

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Later on, Britain’s lower house of parliament is expected to approve emergency legislation giving authorities sweeping powers to tackle the outbreak, including the right to detain people and put them in isolation to protect public health.

Britain has already brought in measures to try to curb the spread of the virus.

On Monday (local time), a much-reduced rail service was introduced and jury trials were suspended, coming days after Johnson advised Britons to work from home if possible and ordered the closure of pubs, gyms and leisure centres.

Other businesses are shutting their doors voluntarily as demand collapses.

Fashion and homeware retailer Next (NXT.L) said it will close its stores as of 1800 GMT on Monday until further notice, while bakery chain Greggs (GRG.L) and department store John Lewis said they would do the same.

Advice ignored

But advice to stay at home and avoid social gatherings went unheeded by millions at the weekend who took advantage of sunny weather to flock to parks and beauty spots over the weekend, ignoring instructions to stay two metres apart.

Emyr Williams, chief executive of the Snowdonia National Park Authority in Wales, said the past 24 hours had been unprecedented.

“We have experienced the busiest visitor day in living memory. The area has been overwhelmed with visitors,” he said.

The government warned that Britain would face a shutdown with curfews and travel restrictions if people continued to flout the advice.

“Well, we’re perfectly prepared to do that if we need to because the objective here is really clear which is to stop the spread of the virus,” Hancock told Sky News.

The closure of non-essential shops comes as Britain opened the first part of a 330 billion pound loan guarantee scheme for businesses to help small and medium-sized firms borrow up to 5 million pounds to deal with coronavirus stoppages.

UK banks are in a “strong position” to further support an economy that will rebound from the epidemic, the Bank of England and leading lenders said in a joint statement.

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– Reuters