The government will be able to order people in certain towns to stay at home under sweeping new coronavirus powers.
Boris Johnson has announced the proposed new powers as part of plans to contain future COVID-19 outbreaks at a local level.
In addition to the local “stay at home” orders, government ministers – “where justified by the evidence” – would be able to:
prevent people entering or leaving defined areas
close whole sectors or types of premises in an area
reduce the maximum size of gatherings
restrict transport systems
Draft regulations for the powers, which will apply to England, will be published next week.
Speaking at a Downing Street press conference on Friday, Johnson sighed as he said: “I know it will be hard-going for people affected by these local measures.
“It isn’t easy and for some it may seem unjust that people just a short distance away can live their lives closer to normal.
“But it has to be right that we take local action in response to local outbreaks.”
Local councils have also been given new powers, and will be the first port of call in dealing with Leicester-style outbreaks.
The prime minister said that as of Saturday, local authorities will be able to close specific premises, shut public outdoor spaces and cancel events.
However, Johnson added these actions “may not always be sufficient” and subsequently central government will be able to “intervene” at a local level with measures such as the local “stay at home” orders.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan was among those who raised doubts about Johnson’s announcement.
He accused the government of being “too slow” to work with City Hall and London councils over planning potential local lockdowns.
He told PA: “I haven’t got any confidence that we could have a geographical lockdown in London.
“We probably could lockdown a building, if it’s a factory or a place of worship or a school.
“That’s why it’s really important at long last that the government provides us with the power, resources, clarity and information, should there be a need, heaven forbid, for a local lockdown in London.”