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A fresh clampdown on London – with pubs, cinemas and gyms being ordered to close to stop the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic – is under discussion by the government.
An announcement could be made within hours, after crisis planners became increasingly concerned that too many people were continuing to ignore social distancing advice, making the spread of the virus more likely.
The British capital is the target of tougher measures because it has the highest rate of infection and deaths so far. Debate within government is continuing about whether non-essential shops – that is those not selling food or medical supplies – would be included in the ban.
The government had been considering a formal ban on Thursday and was braced to announce it – but pulled back. Among senior government figures there is a deep reluctance to issue banning orders.
Officials believe they would have the power to order bans even without special emergency laws to address the pandemic.
Crisis planners and government advisers have been looking at a range of data, such as transport usage in the capital and hospital admissions, to assess if the pleas made on Monday for people to stay home were being heeded.
Continuing anecdotal evidence of people, especially younger Londoners, continuing to go to pubs despite repeated pleas has led to the government believing it may have no choice but to issue the ban.