UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday ordered a three-week lockdown to tackle the spread of coronavirus, shutting “non-essential” shops and services, and banning gatherings of more than two people.

In a televised address to the nation, PM Johnson urged people to “stay at home,” as he unveiled unprecedented peacetime measures after the country’s death toll climbed to 335.

The announcement came after outrage in government that recommendations about reducing social contact to minimise close-contact transmission of the virus were being ignored.

Crowds of people were seen enjoying weekend spring sunshine in parks and countryside across the country, prompting calls for tougher action to be imposed.

The British prime minister further said, “I must give the country a very simple instruction — you must stay at home”.

“Because the critical thing we must do is stop the disease spreading between households”, he added.

As of Monday morning, there had been 6,650 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the UK, an increase of 967 in the past 24 hours, according to the latest figures released by the Department of Health and Social Care. A total of 335 COVID-19 patients had died, the figures showed.

“Without a huge national effort to halt the growth of this virus, there will come a moment when no health service in the world could possibly cope; because there won’t be enough ventilators, enough intensive care beds, enough doctors and nurses,” Johnson added.

Earlier this month, Britain recorded its first death in the outbreak but has been criticised for its light-touch approach to containing the spread compared to more stringent measures elsewhere.

Italy has suffered the most coronavirus deaths worldwide, with 6,077 fatalities out of 63,927 declared infections.

PM Johnson had previously resisted mounting public concern that hand-washing was not enough to reduce the impact of COVID-19.

Last week, according to the British health authorities, there were 32 more people have died in the country after testing positive for COVID-19, bringing the death toll to 104.

The country has closed all public and private educational institutions, marriage halls, cultural centres, cinemas, and cancelled all sports activities and official events and also blocked its western border crossings with Iran and Afghanistan.

(With inputs from agency)