A sign encouraging social distancing is seen in Hyde Park after the British government placed further restrictions on movement in London, Britain on March 24, 2020. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Monday evening a series of measures that aim to restrict social contact in the UK, so as to curb the spread of COVID-19. Starting from Monday night, people in Britain will only be allowed to leave their homes for "very limited purposes", including shopping for basic necessities, for any medical need, for one form of exercise a day, and to travel to and from work when necessary, said the prime minister. (Photo by Tim Ireland/Xinhua)
LONDON, March 24 (Xinhua) -- As Britain entered the first day of lockdown, a leading police officer on Tuesday said enforcing the British government's restrictions on movement will be "a real challenge" and even impossible with the number of officers available.
The statement came one day after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared a "moment of national emergency" and urged the British people to stay at home to curb the spread of COVID-19.
TOUGH STEPS, REAL CHALLENGE
According to Johnson, starting from Monday night, people in Britain will only be allowed to leave their homes for "very limited purposes," including shopping for basic necessities, for any medical need, for one form of exercise a day, and to travel to and from work when necessary.
Any gatherings of more than two people will be dispersed by police, and police also have the powers to serve on the spot fines of 30 pounds (about 35.29 U.S. dollars) if people ignore the government's new stay at home orders.
In a press briefing on Tuesday, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: "These measures are not advice. They are rules and will be enforced."
However, some have already criticised the lack of clarity around the new measures and questioned whether a 30-pound fine (about 35.29 dollars) would be enough to enforce the lockdown.
Ken Marsh, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, told Sky News: "It's going to be very difficult what is put in front of us."
The British government hadn't told the police the details of what their new powers will be, Marsh said, adding that the police would not be able to carry out their new duties without support from the public.
"We don't actually know what is being put in front of us yet other than we're going to be asked to disperse crowds," he said. "It's going to be a real, real challenge."
Over the weekend, crowds of people were witnessed visiting open spaces across many parts of Britain, at times ignoring official social distancing advice.
SHORTAGE OF POLICE FORCE
Apart from a shortage of medics, Britain is also witnessing a lack of police officers. Around one in five London police officers and staff are unavailable because of the coronavirus pandemic, the London-based Evening Standard newspaper reported Tuesday.
According to the Met Police Federation, Scotland Yard has seen 19 percent of police, civilian and community support officers reporting not available for duty, having either contracted COVID-19 or because they are self-isolating.
The federation claimed that, as of Monday, 2,100 of the London police force's 31,000 officers were off, including a high-ranking policeman.
Marsh cast doubt on officers' ability to deal with the lockdown and claimed the British Army may need to help enforce the measures.
"The Army are already in place on the outskirts of London and across the country. And I don't doubt for one minute that they will be called if needed," Marsh said. "It could be tailored in quite quickly and everything is on the table."
EMPTY STREETS, PACKED TUBES
Londoners woke up Tuesday to a new reality of quiet streets, but serious overcrowding on the London Underground triggered urgent appeals from medics for people to "stay home and save lives."
Above ground, the cityscape was one of orderly compliance with the near-lockdown announced by Johnson on Monday night as millions of people stayed at home and most businesses obediently closed their doors to customers.
Only one or two passengers were seen in a bus near Swiss Cottage in northwest London to the downtown area.
Underlining the national emergency, Army trucks drove over Westminster Bridge and past the House of Commons to deliver urgent supplies to St Thomas' Hospital.
Below ground there was confusion and anger as passengers struggled to maintain social-distancing on platforms crowded with people trying to get to work on a stripped-down Tube service, according to the Evening Standard newspaper.
A Tube driver spoke out against non-essential journeys and said he will be forced to self-isolate to protect his family if the overcrowding continues.
Worried about packed carriages on the London Underground, Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, took to social media to warn the public to listen to the government and stay at home unless they are a key worker or need to travel for urgent reasons.
"More lives will be lost" unless the public stops "all non-essential travel" during the coronavirus lockdown, Khan said.