How coronavirus has changed UK life in seven days

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Juliet Bremner

In the space of seven short days, life in the UK has changed beyond recognition.

The nation is entering its first weekend of lockdown at the end of a week that has seen society shut down and the streets virtually empty as attempts to slow the spread of coronavirus ramped up.

A week ago today, pubs, bars, theatres and restaurants were facing their first full day of closure, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered the closing down of the hospitality and entertainment sectors.

The ban, backed by the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, came amid reports that many people were ignoring an earlier voluntary appeal to stay away.

A near-deserted Liverpool city centre the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered pubs and restaurants across the country to close Credit: Peter Byrne/PA

The number of people who had died after testing positive for Covid-19 stood at 233.

Sunday brought a Mother’s Day unlike anyone had ever seen before, as the public were urged to resist visiting their mothers amid a warning from Mr Johnson that the outbreak was “accelerating”.

He said that while “everyone’s strongest instinct” was to visit their mother, the best single present they could give was to stay away and minimise the risk of infection.

Meanwhile, it was announced that the NHS was to begin sending out letters to the 1.5 million people considered to be most at risk from the disease, urging them to remain at home for the next 12 weeks.

Mr Johnson said that “shielding” for this vulnerable group – which includes those with severe respiratory conditions and those suffering from certain cancers – would do “more than any other single measure to save life”.

Just a day later, the Prime Minister announced the strictest curbs on UK life seen yet, placing the country on lockdown.

In a televised address to the nation, Mr Johnson ordered the public to only leave home to shop for basic necessities “as infrequently as possible” and to perform one form of exercise a day.

People could also leave their houses to seek medical help, provide care to a vulnerable person or travel to work if “absolutely necessary”, he said.

All shops selling non-essential items, along with premises including libraries, playgrounds and places of worship, were immediately closed, all social events, including weddings and baptisms, but not funerals, were stopped, and public gatherings of more than two people – other than of those who people live with – were banned.

The measures were put under “constant review” and would be considered for relaxation in three weeks, Mr Johnson said.

You should not be meeting friends. If your friends ask you to meet, you should say no. You should not be meeting family members who do not live in your home

Boris Johnson

The move came following reports of crowds flocking to parks, beaches and beauty spots over the weekend, often flouting official social distancing advice.

On Tuesday, the Government announced plans to recruit 250,000 volunteers in good health to help the national effort by assisting those who are shielding themselves against Covid-19 through delivering medicines, shopping and other support.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed that a temporary hospital – the NHS Nightingale hospital – would be opened at London’s ExCeL centre, and announced that almost 12,000 recently retired NHS staff, including doctors, nurses and pharmacists, had responded to the call to return to the health service.

The following day came the news that the Prince of Wales had tested positive for coronavirus.

Clarence House said in a statement that Charles, 71, had “mild symptoms” and was self-isolating at home in Scotland with his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, who did not have the virus.

Meanwhile, just 24 hours after launching the call for volunteers, it was revealed that 405,000 people had signed up to help.

And Parliament adjourned for an early Easter break after emergency legislation to tackle Covid-19 was approved.

On Thursday evening, people across the country, including the royal family and the Prime Minister, took to balconies, windows and doorsteps to offer a national round of applause to NHS staff.

It came on a day that saw the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, unveil a £9 billion package of support for self-employed workers.

The scheme, which will be open for at least three months, will cover 80% of an individual’s average month profits, but it may not be available until June and will only be available to those who have a tax return for 2019.

Police officers in England were given the power to enforce the coronavirus lockdown as of 1pm on Thursday, with those who flout the rules on staying at home facing arrest or fines.

It was announced on Friday that both Mr Johnson and Mr Hancock had tested positive for the virus.

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty also revealed he had symptoms and was self-isolating.

The dramatic developments came as it was revealed that the UK had seen its biggest day-on-day rise in coronavirus-related deaths since the outbreak began.

A total of 759 people have now died in UK hospitals – up from 578 the day before – while 14,543 have tested positive for the virus and hundreds of thousands more are thought to be infected.

NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said NHS staff would start being tested for Covid-19 from next week, and revealed that across England, there are now 33,000 hospital beds available to treat coronavirus patients.

And it was confirmed that further NHS Nightingale hospitals are now being built in Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre and Manchester’s Central Convention Centre, with more to follow.