LONDON — The U.K. will begin banning mass gatherings to help combat the coronavirus outbreak as early as next week.
In an escalation of the government’s response just a day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out measures that stopped short of major shutdowns, officials said on Friday that “various types” of public event would now be stopped.
The move follows criticism of the U.K.’s approach from some scientists and commentators. The U.K. — which up until now has focused on contact tracing and, as of Thursday, asking those with specific symptoms to self-isolate — had become an international outlier in terms of its response, with other European countries taking far more drastic shutdown measures to slow the virus’s spread.
Officials said the decision to shut down events was based on “complex considerations” including the need to relieve pressure on emergency services. The Scottish government has already announced similar measures.
“Ministers are working with the chief scientific adviser and chief medical officer on our plan to stop various types of public event, including mass gatherings, beginning next week,” a Whitehall official said. “We are also talking to businesses and other bodies about the timing of moving toward much more widespread working from home.”
Several organizations had already begun canceling major events on Friday. Professional football matches, including the Premier League — the most watched in the world — have been suspended by the sport’s authorities until April 4 at the earliest; May’s local and mayoral elections, including the London mayoral election, have been postponed until next year; and the London Marathon was postponed until October.
“There are many complex considerations to make all these measures as effective as possible,” the Whitehall official said. “We will make the right decisions at the right time based on the best scientific evidence. For example, we are concerned about the burden large events put on public services — including the health service and the police — from dealing with coronavirus.”
Emergency legislation due to be published in parliament next week is expected to propose additional powers for the government to address the coronavirus outbreak, including stopping mass gatherings, officials said.