London Braces for Coronavirus Lockdown, 20,000 Troops Ready to Be Deployed
Tube stations in UK capital shut down as government rolls out tougher measures
London is bracing for a total lockdown to tackle the coronavirus crisis as the UK government ramps up its efforts by rolling out tougher measures.
A virtual shutdown in the British capital has already been triggered after London's underground stations closed Thursday.
As Prime Minister Boris Johnson is mulling stricter actions to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, up to 20,000 British military service personnel have been placed on standby, ready to be deployed.
The number represented a doubling of service personnel who are on standby, the defence ministry said on Thursday.
As the coronavirus outbreak sweeps across the world, governments, companies, and investors are grappling with panicked populations and imploding financial markets.
The COVID-19 outbreak is now the biggest public health crisis since the 1918 influenza pandemic.
After ordering the closure of schools across a country that casts itself as a pillar of Western stability, Johnson on Wednesday said the government was ruling nothing out when asked whether he would bring in measures to lock down London.
Johnson has asked the government to come up with plans for a so-called lockdown which would see businesses closed, transport services reduced, gatherings limited and more stringent controls imposed on the population of one Europe’s richest cities.
Pressed at a news conference whether tougher measures were needed to shut down London where bars, public transport, and businesses remain busy, Johnson said: “We’ve always said we’re going to do the right measures at the right time.”
London’s transport authority said it would close up to 40 underground train stations until further notice and prepared to cut down other services including buses and trains, including the whole of the Waterloo & City line.
“People should not be traveling, by any means, unless they really, really have to,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan said.
Britain has so far reported 104 deaths from coronavirus and 2,626 confirmed cases.
As the world’s fifth-largest economy comes to a standstill, the pound on Wednesday plunged to its lowest level since March 1985, barring levels seen during a freak “flash crash” in October 2016.
On Thursday the pound was down 0.5% at $1.1570.
Stores have been forced to limit purchases after frantic shoppers stripped shelves.
Outside one Sainsbury’s supermarket in central London on Thursday, a huge queue had formed ahead of opening, with people standing calmly in the rain, Reuters video showed.
Meanwhile, British troops have been put on standby to help combat the coronavirus, with up to 20,000 service personnel gearing up to drive oxygen tankers, support the police, and boost hospital capacity.
On Thursday, reservists will be put on notice to mobilize if required as part of a war-like effort to prepare the armed forces in case the government calls upon them in large numbers.
But the military must also deal with the threat posed by COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Commanders are taking steps to isolate or quarantine personnel on the UK's most important security missions - such as the ability to respond to a terrorist attack or to protect UK skies from hostile aircraft - to ensure they are not sick.
In addition, all holiday leave has been cancelled for troops deployed on operations overseas, while training exercises in Canada and Kenya have been postponed.
"The men and women of our armed forces stand ready to protect Britain and her citizens from all threats, including COVID-19," Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said.
"The unique flexibility and dedication of the services means that we are able to provide assistance across the whole of society in this time of need.
"From me downwards the entirety of the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces are dedicated to getting the nation through this global pandemic."