UK to ban mass gatherings from next week to curb coronavirus

LONDON (Reuters) – The British government will ban mass gatherings from next week in an attempt to curb the coronavirus outbreak, an escalation of its crisis plan that critics had said was too relaxed.

Health authorities in England announced on Saturday a further 10 deaths caused by coronavirus, almost doubling the number of fatalities in Britain since Friday.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has so far resisted pressure to take some of the stringent measures adopted by other European countries to slow the spread of the virus.

“Ministers are working with the chief scientific adviser and chief medical officer on our plan to stop various types of public events, including mass gatherings, beginning next week,” a government source said.

Legislation would be published next week to give the government powers to deal with the outbreak, including to stop mass gatherings and compensate organizations, the source said.

Some organizations have moved ahead of the government in terms of limiting public gatherings. On Friday, England’s soccer Premier League suspended all matches until April 4 and the London Marathon was postponed by its organizers.

Queen Elizabeth, who is 93, canceled some public engagements for next week due to the coronavirus outbreak, Buckingham Palace said on Friday.

Johnson postponed for a year local and mayoral elections in England that had been due to take place in May.

As of Saturday, 21 people had died after testing positive for COVID-19 in Britain.

“All 10 individuals were in the at-risk groups,” Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, said in a statement.

“I understand this increase in the number of deaths linked to COVID-19 will be a cause for concern for many. The public should know every measure we are taking is seeking to save lives and protect the most vulnerable.”

By comparison, on Friday Italy said its death toll from COVID-19 rose to 1,266 and France reported an increase to 79.

Britain’s health ministry said the number of confirmed positive tests for coronavirus in the country rose to 1,140 on Saturday, a 43% increase from the figure of 798 given on Friday.

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U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday that the United States might include Britain in a coronavirus travel ban that it has imposed on other European countries.

British media said the new ban on mass gatherings could affect events such as the Glastonbury music festival, the Wimbledon tennis championships and the Grand National horse race.

Scotland’s devolved government said on Thursday all large gatherings above 500 people should be canceled to help emergency services focus on the coronavirus outbreak.

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