There is “zero prospect” of restrictions on travel in and out of London over the coronavirus pandemic, Downing Street has said.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said: “There are no plans to close down the transport network in London and there is zero prospect of any restrictions being placed on travelling in and out of London.”
Reports that people could be limited to one person in and out of their house are also not true, he added.
Police will continue to have responsibility for maintaining law and order and there are no plans to draft in the military for this purpose, the spokesman also said.
Appearing at the government’s daily coronavirus press conference on Wednesday, Mr Johnson was asked by Sky’s political editor Beth Rigby whether further enforcement measures could be taken in the capital.
The PM said he would “not hesitate to bring forward further and faster measures where necessary”, sparking speculation more stringent restrictions could have been imminent.
But his official spokesman was at pains to play down such talk at the daily briefing with Westminster journalists.
“The prime minister and his advisers have set out the need for social distancing measures to limit the spread of the virus to protect lives,” he said.
“What we are focused on is ensuring that as many people as possible take that advice and don’t unnecessarily put themselves in the position where they could be spreading coronavirus.”
Asked if pubs and some shops could be ordered to shut, the spokesman replied: “We do want people to follow the advice which we have given in relation to limiting unnecessary social contact.”
Senior government officials have insisted that the draconian measures seen in France and Italy would not be seen in the UK.
“There is not going to be any point where there are border guards stood around London saying ‘you can’t come in or out’,” a source said.
“That’s not the sort of country we are.”
Dozen of Tube stations closed in the capital on Thursday, with a reduced service running from Friday.
Mayor Sadiq Khan has told Londoners that they should only travel unless they “really, really have to”, but he insisted the network must remain open to aid front-line health workers.
He has acknowledged that the situation in London meant further action will be necessary.
“We are clearly still in the early phase of this crisis but the spread of the virus is at a more advanced stage in London than in other parts of the country,” Mr Khan said.
“This means that further measures will need to be introduced at the point at which they will have the biggest effect.”
The PM has said London is ahead of other parts of the UK in terms of how much it has been affected by COVID-19.
Londoners have already been told to take social distancing measures “particularly seriously”, including working from home where possible, avoiding confined spaces, and not having any unnecessary social contact.
The London mayor and the PM were due to hold talks with senior officials on Thursday, amid concerns the NHS in London could be put under intense pressure unless COVID-19 is brought under control.
Analysis – Number 10 moves to shut down rumour mill
by Sam Coates, deputy political editor
Downing Street were emphatic this morning about what would not be happening in the near future.
No shutdown of the London transport network, no measures to force healthy people to stay in their homes, no ban on people in and out of London.
Rumours of such measures spread like wildfire yesterday, both informally across WhatsApp but also in some parts of the media.
Today Downing Street has been doing a mopping up exercise that perhaps could have been done earlier.
The rumours were rife even before Boris Johnson stood before the podium for yesterday’s press conference.
Sky’s political Editor Beth Rigby asked about further lockdown measures during that press conference.
Mr Johnson didn’t shut anything down at that time, saying simply the government wouldn’t hesitate to do whatever necessary.
The rumour mill went further into overdrive, and some people started to wonder if they needed to act now before the alleged but untrue rumours of a crackdown became real.
Could the PM have done more earlier? Probably, but there appears to have been a real debate going on in Number 10 over how far to go.
Things are likely to have changed overnight, particularly on sight of the newspapers.
The volume of work for Whitehall is enormous. They are trying to come up with plans for reworking the economy, social distancing, key workers, shielding the vulnerable and school exams.
Perhaps not perfect but these are extraordinary times, and there is no sign everyone isn’t trying their hardest to do their level best.