His edict followed fury that previous Government advice for people to voluntarily stay away from social venues was being widely flouted, particularly in London. He insisted the dramatic curbs were vital to “push down further” the spread of the virus – but apologised for withdrawing the “ancient inalienable right of free-born people of the UK to go to the pub.”
The draconian restrictions – unprecedented in peacetime possibly since the era of Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate – will be reviewed every six months.
Betting shops will also be ordered to shut under the crackdown. Pubs and restaurants will be permitted to continue serving takeaway food but not serve customers staying on the premises.
Mr Johnson announced the shutdown at his daily Downing Street news conference last night.
“We need now to push down further on that curve of transmission between us,” the Prime Minister said, adding that the shut down had been agreed with the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
“We are collectively telling cafés, pubs, bars, restaurants to close tonight as soon as they reasonably can, and not to open tomorrow, though to be clear, they can continue to provide take-out services.
“We’re also telling nightclubs, theatres, cinemas, gyms and leisure centres to close on the same timescale.
“Now, these are places where people come together, and indeed the whole purpose of these businesses is to bring people together.
“But the sad things is that today for now, at least physically, we need to keep people apart.”
Announcing that the shutdown was coming into effect last night, the Prime Minister made an impassioned plea for drinkers not to indulge in one final binge.
“Listening to what I have just said, some people may of course be tempted to go out tonight but please don’t,” he said.
“You may think you are invincible, but there is no guarantee you will get mild symptoms, and you can still be a carrier of the disease and pass it on to others
“So that’s why, as far as possible, we want you to stay at home, that’s how we can protect our NHS and save lives.”
Signalling his reluctance to play the role of national killjoy, the Prime Minister added: “I know how difficult this is, how it seems to go against the freedom-loving instincts of the British people. And I also know much, right now, workers and business deserve the financial reassurance we are giving them.
“But we will get through this, we will get through it together, and we will beat this virus.”
Mr Johnson declined to condemn those who had flouted his previous call for voluntary abstinence from going to pubs and restaurants as “immoral”.
He said: “I don’t want to get into moral name-calling but I do accept what we are doing is extraordinary.
“We are taking away the ancient inalienable right of free-born people of the UK to go to the pub.
“I can understand how you all feel about that. But I say to people who do go against the very clear advice that we’re getting from our medical and scientific experts
“You are not only putting your own life and the lives of your family at risk. You’re endangering the community. And you’re making it more difficult for us to protect the NHS and save lives.
“If people comply, we will not only save thousands of lives, we will come out of this thing all the faster.”
A government source said: “If we are to save lives, protect the NHS and bring down the infection rate we need people to follow this guidance.”
The source said social distancing had been “patchy” in some parts of the country including London.