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With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on covid-19. The spread of coronavirus is rapidly accelerating across the world and in the UK. The actions that we took yesterday are not actions that any UK Government would ever want to take, but they were absolutely necessary. The goal is clear: to slow the rate of transmission in order to protect the NHS and save lives. Our instruction is simple: stay at home.
People should only leave their home for one of four reasons: first, to shop for basic necessities, such as food, as infrequently as possible; secondly, to exercise once a day, for example a run, walk or cycle, alone or with members of the same household; thirdly, for any medical need, or to provide care or help to a vulnerable person; and fourthly, to travel to and from work, but only where it cannot be done from home, and employers should be taking every possible step to ensure that staff can work remotely. Those four reasons are exceptions to the rule. Further guidance is available on the gov.uk website.
I want to be clear that where people absolutely cannot work from home, they can still go to work. Indeed, it is important that they do so in order to keep the country running. Key workers, for example in the NHS and social care, pharmacists and those in the medicines supply chain, should go to work, unless they are self-isolating because they or someone else in their household has symptoms. We will be publishing guidance later today to explain the steps that employers must take to ensure that employees are safe, including making sure that there is a 2-metre gap between workers wherever possible.
In addition, all non-essential shops and community centres are closed as of today, and gatherings of more than two people in public must stop. These measures are not advice; they are rules. They will be enforced, including by the police, with fines for non-compliance starting at £30 but up to unlimited fines.
I want to update the House on the shielding that was introduced yesterday. We are writing to up to 1.5 million of the most vulnerable people in the UK to advise them that they will need to shield themselves from the virus in the coming months. We will provide targeted support for all those who need it so that they have the food supplies and medical care they need to make it through. Guided by the experts, we will look at the evidence and continually review the effects of the measures.
We are engaged in a great national effort to beat the virus. Everybody now has it in their power to save lives and protect the NHS. Home is now the frontline. In this national effort, working together, we can defeat this disease. Everyone has a part to play. I commend this statement to the House.