‘All mass gatherings and sports events are set to be banned from next weekend, it can be revealed.
In a major escalation of the coronavirus crisis, ministers are preparing to introduce emergency legislation early next week to allow this.
The unprecedented move puts key summer events such as the Glastonbury Festival, VE Day commemorations, Chelsea Flower Show, Wimbledon tennis championships, the Grand National and Royal Ascot under threat.
It comes after sports bodies confirmed the postponement of the London Marathon, the suspension of Premier League football matches and the cancellation of the England cricket team’s Sri Lanka tour.
As the number of coronavirus cases in the UK neared 800 and the death toll hit 11, it also emerged that officials are talking to businesses about ways to help millions work from home.
The cranking up of the government’s response is also understood to hand police the powers to detain suspected virus victims ‘for a limited period’ if necessary stop them spreading the infection.
Council care homes will also be given the legal wriggle room to pare back their services if staff shortages make it impossible to continue providing current levels of support for their elderly residents.
Boris Johnson’s U-turn last night came after he flatly refused on Thursday to replicate the stronger action being taken by other countries to curb big gatherings.
But he came under mounting criticism from health experts and politicians arguing that Britain was not doing enough to keep the public safe.
Only yesterday morning, chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said cancelling large gatherings was ‘eye-catching’ but the chances of contracting coronavirus by attending such events were less than a visit to the pub.
A Whitehall source denied the Government was binning its previous scientific advice, saying the change of heart reflected concerns about the pressure mass gatherings put on police and ambulance services that may be depleted because of the virus.
‘We have drafted emergency legislation to give the Government the powers it needs to deal with coronavirus, including powers to stop mass gatherings and compensate organisations,’ the source said. ‘We will publish this legislation next week.’
Despite the ban on large gatherings, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said schools would remain open to avoid parents having to take time off work and assured he was ‘particularly mindful’ of the strains being lumped on the NHS.
Such pressure was laid bare last night when it emerged hospitals could stop treating the most severely ill coronavirus victims if the outbreak escalates.’
Read more: Boris coronavirus U-turn: PM announces mass gatherings WILL be banned from next weekend and police allowed to ARREST victims who break rules: New powers put Glastonbury, Ascot and Wimbledon under threat – but schools will still stay open