ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is ordering people across the U.K. to stay at home except for absolutely essential trips, such as shopping. The prime minister also called for police to enforce this order. For more, we turn to NPR's Frank Langfitt in London. Hi,
FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: What other restrictions is Johnson putting in place and for how long?
LANGFITT: Well, he's closing - telling everybody to close all the shops - of course except supermarkets. People will of course be able to still shop at supermarkets. Closing libraries, playgrounds, no weddings, baptisms or other ceremonies, excluding funerals. He's telling people you can get out maybe one time a day for exercise, and only two people can be together outside unless it's a family. And the police will be able to enforce this with fines and disperse gatherings of more than two people. This is supposed to last, initially, for three weeks.
SHAPIRO: Other European countries had implemented harsh restrictions like this earlier - Italy, Germany, Spain. But this is a change from the British government's previous policy, isn't it?
LANGFITT: It is. And they've been sort of going, I think, slowly by comparison to these other major countries in Western Europe. You know, it was just on Friday that Boris Johnson, who has seemed to resist a lot of this, said we're going to need to close down pubs, restaurants and cafes and say we do have to use social distancing. He said people could still go to work but, you know, only if they absolutely had to. And so he's moved relatively slowly, and he's come under a lot of criticism from members of the public about this.
SHAPIRO: You know, British friends of mine on Twitter have been posting images of people on the Tube, people in the parks.
SHAPIRO: Had they just not been following the previous policy?
LANGFITT: No, and I'm glad you saw those, Ari. What happened this weekend, it was a glorious weekend here, certainly, in southeastern England. And people were out and about. People were walking in the parks. They were walking close together. In my town - outside of London, where I live, people were out and about on the streets. And people were shopping in malls. I mean, it did not look like a place that was in the midst of an epidemic.
The health secretary, Matt Hancock, he, this morning, called this behavior very selfish. He said we're absolutely prepared to take further steps, and that's of course what we've seen now with Boris Johnson.
SHAPIRO: There's been this long-running debate over the British health care system, the NHS, being underfunded for years. And so there's a lot of concern about how it'll hold up under the coronavirus outbreak. How's it doing so far?
LANGFITT: Well, and that's exactly - to get to that first, Boris Johnson said that's why he's doing this now - because he feels there's a great threat of overwhelming the system. There are already complaints, Ari, about people running out of protective gear. A hospital in London last week, the staff actually had to start wearing trash bags for protection.
The Doctors' Association, on Sunday - this is a lobbying group - said that doctors they'd been talking to felt like lambs to the slaughter and cannon fodder, which, you know, in a country known for understatement, that's really a huge thing to say. The U.K. government says it's rushing more supplies out. It has called up another - I guess 7,500 retirees are coming out of work (ph). But this does feel a bit ominous, the idea we're nowhere near the peak. Now, many medical staff have been going online posting things telling people to stay home to save lives. Here's some respiratory doctors and nurses in Belfast who posted this to the Internet recently.
(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)
NICK: We are now in the greatest medical crisis of our lifetime. Stay at home.
ROISIN: I'm Roisin (ph), a respiratory nurse. Doctors and nurses have died. We need to stay healthy so we can help you. You can help save our lives. Stay at home.
LANGFITT: And Ari, what you're hearing now from the prime minister is he ordering people to do that.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt.
Thank you very much, Frank.
LANGFITT: You're very welcome, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.