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Coronavirus pandemic finally hits home for the United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom just days ago, the attitude toward the novel coronavirus pandemic was “keep calm and carry on.” Now, however, the stakes are higher -- and the national feeling more grim. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered pubs and restaurants to close and residents to work from home. He’s also promising billions in relief. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Europe is now the epicenter of this outbreak, with Italy, Spain and France contending with a flood of patients.

    Ten days ago, the attitude in the United Kingdom was, keep calm and carry on. But now the stakes are higher, and the national feeling more dire.

    Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant is near his home in Marlow, England tonight.

    Malcolm?

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Judy, the death toll in the United Kingdom now stands at 177.

    The big news tonight is that the government is promising billions to save jobs and businesses, and the prime minister has ordered all pubs and restaurants to close to try to reduce risk of contagion.

    He wants everybody who can to work from home. And that's why, tonight, my report is coming from my hometown, Marlow, 30 miles west of London.

    This class was the last chance for part-time teacher Leah Harris to earn before all British schools was shuttered. It was the second blow in double-time. Her main dancing gig in the show "42nd Street" ended when COVID-19 brought the curtains down across London's Theatreland.

  • Leah Harris:

    This just so sudden and very, very scary. Where's the money even going to come from? Producers are going to run out of money because they haven't got ticket sales going out. Who knows when it's going to end?

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Before closing the doors tonight, Jo-Noel Hartley, the owner of this small theater and drama school, issued an appeal.

  • Jo-Noel Hartley:

    We need the government to pause all mortgage and rent payments. I think that's the most important thing. People need roofs over their heads, and I don't know how anybody is going to survive working for possibly for two months without any income.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Westminster listened. Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised tenants protection against possible eviction.

  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson:

    It is very important that, as we ask the public to do the right thing for themselves and everybody else, that no one, whatever their income, should be penalized for doing the right thing.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Johnson was criticized for not closing schools sooner, but, today, pupils left campuses not knowing when they will return.

    The school furlough means many parents will have to abandon work to provide child care. That adds to the worries of auto trader Tim Platt.

  • Tim Platt:

    I woke up in a cold sweat at about 3:00 this morning and then just couldn't go back to sleep.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Platt's dealership has been a pillar of the local economy for a century, but COVID-19 poses an existential threat to even the most successful business. Platt is determined to retain his 50-strong work force.

  • Tim Platt:

    It's about, how do you get people spending money and keeping the circulation going? Because if that circulation isn't there, it's got to be very disruptive.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Tonight, Prime Minister Johnson and his finance minister, Rishi Sunak, issued a blank check to protect jobs and business.

  • Rishi Sunak:

    Government grants will cover 80 percent of the salary of retained workers, up to a total of 2,500 pounds a month. That's just above the median income.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    After being accused of dithering, the government also tonight ordered pubs, cafes, and clubs to close, because so many people refused to exercise self-restraint. Some watering holes, like The Ship, voluntarily went into drydock before the ban came into force.

  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson:

    You may think that you're invincible, but there is no guarantee that you will get mild symptoms, and you can still be a carrier of the disease and pass it on to others.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The bottling plant at the local brewery is silent.

    Normally, this production line generates an annual turnover of $6 million. Co-owner Mark Gloyens knows the line between profitability and catastrophe is razor-thin.

  • Mark Gloyens:

    Eighty percent of what we brew, we sell through the trade, and we have lost that pretty much overnight.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Gloyens hopes that his on-site store can help cash flow. Customer Val Cauldwell prefers to shop here than in a national chain.

  • Val Cauldwell:

    I think it could kill the local economy, if we don't try to support the people that are local to us.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Gloyens is committed to the livelihoods of his 60 staff.

  • Mark Gloyens:

    We might have to incrementally reduce people's hours down, and we might have to stop paying them proportionately. But we're hoping that, by the measures we're taking, we will actually retain all the staff, and then, when hopefully things return to normal, whenever that will be, that we will be able to just start again with the current level of staff.

  • Man:

    This is a message from the government and the NHS about how to protect yourself and others from coronavirus.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    At the local radio station, director Tim Ashburner fosters community spirit and keeps his finger on the public pulse.

  • Tim Ashburner:

    We're going to go through that period of denial, confusion, annoyance, anger, and then, sooner or later, within 10 days or so, we will get that period of acceptance.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    But farmer Anthony Mash is defying advice to seniors to stay home.

  • Anthony Mash:

    I can't sit there. I'd go stir crazy.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Mash is 79 years old. Two years ago, his farm was incinerated. Only the name plate survived.

  • Anthony Mash:

    And I'm just anxious to see it rebuilt. And I like to watch every brick laid and every nail that's put in.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    But Mash has heart problems. He's waiting for surgeons to install a new valve. His immunity system is compromised. He's more vulnerable than most.

  • Anthony Mash:

    I don't think it would hurt, if I caught it, actually. I'd probably survive. I think I'm reasonably robust, apart from my aortic valve.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    So far, the local hospital has only registered one virus-related death, but health chiefs fear emergency rooms won't be able to cope if Britain follows Italy.

    Despite the skepticism of some British doctors, the prime minister is upbeat about defeating COVID-19 within three months.

    To do so, he insists, Britain must endure the ghost town blues.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Malcolm Brabant in Marlow.

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