BORIS Johnson has ordered pubs and restaurants across the country to close from tonight (Friday, March 20) except for takeaway food as the Government announced unprecedented measures to cover the wages of workers who would otherwise lose their jobs due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The Prime Minister said that nightclubs, theatres, gyms and leisure centres should close their doors to slow the spread of Covid-19 and prevent the NHS coming under unsustainable pressure.

At his daily Downing Street press conference, the Prime Minister said the measures were needed to reduce "unnecessary" social gatherings by 75% in order to have an impact on the infection rate.

"The speed of our eventual recovery depends entirely on our collective ability to get on top of the virus now and that means we have to take the next steps on scientific advice," he said.

"And following our plan we are strengthening the measures announced on Monday.

"We need now to push down further on that curve of transmission between us."

He was followed by Chancellor Rushi Sunak who said he was establishing a coronavirus job protection scheme to help employers hit by the outbreak.

He said that they would be able to apply to HM Revenue and Customs to cover 80% of the wages of staff they keep on up to £2,500 a month.

Mr Sunak said "our planned economic response will be one of the most comprehensive in the world".

He added: "To all those at home, right now anxious about the days ahead, I say you will not face this alone."

It followed criticism that his £350 billion emergency support package for the economy earlier this week concentrated on businesses but did little for their staff.

The announcement came after scientists advising the Government warned that restrictions to control the spread of the virus will need to be in place for most of a year - at least.

The Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling said while the severity of measures could fluctuate, "stricter" measures would need to be enforced for at least half of the year in order to keep cases at a level the NHS can cope with.

These could include school closures and social distancing for everyone, while less restrictive measures include isolating cases and households.

It comes as a further 39 people in England were confirmed to have died after testing positive for Covid-19, bringing the UK death toll to 177.

Mr Johnson said the restrictions on pubs and cafes and other premises would be reviewed on a monthly basis as he appealed to people to stay at home "as far as possible".

"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," he said.

As well as covering wages, Mr Sunak said the Government was deferring the next quarter of VAT payments for businesses until the end of June.

He said that it represented a direct cash injection of more than £30 billion - equivalent to 1.5% of GDP.

For those who still found themselves out of work, he said he was increasing the Universal Credit standard allowance for the next 12 months by £1,000 a year, and raising the working tax credit basic element by the same amount.

"Let me speak directly to businesses: I know it's incredibly difficult out there - we in Government are doing everything we can to support you," he said.

"The Government is doing its best to stand behind you and I'm asking you to do your best to stand behind our workers."

Wales First Minister Mark Drakeford said: "This afternoon I attended a COBR meeting, where further significant measures to combat the coronavirus outbreak were agreed across the four nations of the United Kingdom.
"Earlier this week, we agreed a number of important actions aimed at stopping the spread of the virus.
"We asked people to take action, for example by not attending pubs, clubs, restaurants and other public places. Many people have heeded that strong advice, and behaved responsibly in the interests of our whole society. We have seen that all around us over the past days and I am very grateful to all those who have done so.
"However, we now need everyone to do what most people are doing already  because otherwise, we will not slow the disease at the rate that we must.
"COBR therefore considered and agreed a series of further measures, which are designed to increase the level of public compliance with the earlier advice.
"Health is a devolved responsibility, and as Welsh Ministers, we will tonight exercise our powers under the 1984 Public Health Act in order to close restaurants, pubs, bars and other facilities where people gather. This also includes leisure centres, gyms, cinemas, theatres and betting shops. I will sign the necessary regulations later tonight, and they will come into force immediately.
"We do not take this move lightly, and we know this will be immensely difficult for those employed in the industries affected.
"But this is the right thing to do. We are tackling this virus in a controlled and determined way to protect and care for the most vulnerable people in our society.
"Together we can make that difference."