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People socialize in a pub in Streatham, as the coronavirus outbreak continues, in south London, Britain on March 16, 2020.Hannah McKay/Reuters

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has toughened the government’s measures to tackle the novel coronavirus outbreak, but most of the steps are voluntary and schools will remain open, unlike many other European countries.

Mr. Johnson advised people on Monday to work from home and to stop going to pubs, restaurants, theatres and other social venues. He also banned large public gatherings and said visits to care homes for the elderly should be limited.

“Now is the time for everyone to stop non-essential contact with others and to stop all unnecessary travel,” Mr. Johnson said during a press conference on Monday. “'We need people to start working from home and avoid pubs, clubs and theatres.”

The Prime Minister said the measures will not be mandatory because Britain was a “mature, grown up, liberal democracy” and that people understood the need for the actions. “We have the powers if necessary, but I don’t believe that it will necessary to use those powers,” he said.

He defended the decision not to close schools by saying the government wanted to introduce the right action at the right time. “Our interventions should be timely to have the maximum effect,” he said. “We think at the moment, on balance, it’s much better if we can keep schools open.”

Britain has been an outlier in Europe when it comes to battling the virus. Italy, Spain, France and the Czech Republic have introduced mandatory lockdowns while many other countries have closed schools, bars and restaurants, and restricted travel.

On Monday, the European Commission said it would start limiting travel into the European Union as of Tuesday for up to 30 days. “The less travel, the more we can contain the virus,” said European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

Germany has also closed bars, restaurants, theatres and non-essential stores. The Dutch government has shut schools and restaurants, but is not considering a lockdown or travel restrictions.

Italy remains the European epicentre of the disease and, as of Monday, the country had nearly 28,000 confirmed cases, up from 24,747 a day earlier. The number of fatalities increased by 349 to 2,158. However, the daily increase in positive tests climbed at the slowest rate since the country’s first domestic case in late February.

Globally more than 179,000 people have contracted the virus and more than 7,000 have died. More than 78,000 have recovered.

Britain hasn’t had the same number of coronavirus cases as some other European countries, but the figure is climbing rapidly, particularly in London. Over all, there were 1,543 positive tests for coronavirus in Britain as of Monday, with more than 400 in London. The overall figure was up from 1,372 on Sunday. The number who have died increased to 55 from 35.

Mr. Johnson has come under criticism for not going farther. Some parents have pulled their children out of school and several universities have begun conducting most classes online. A petition calling for schools to close has received more than 590,000 signatures on a parliamentary website, well more than the 100,000 needed to prompt a debate in the House of Commons.

There has also been confusion in Northern Ireland, where schools have remained open while those in Ireland have been shut. Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster said the province was following the U.K.-wide policy for now, but she expected schools will close for up to four months at some point.

"Children will be at home for quite a considerable period of time, given that when we do close the schools they will be closed for at least 16 weeks,” said Ms. Foster, who leads the Democratic Unionist Party.

However, Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill has disagreed and called for an immediate shutdown. "I think the fact that you can have two schools a mile apart and one school’s open and one school’s closed, that’s a very confusing picture and a very confusing message for the public,” said Ms. O’Neill, who leads Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland.

The widening pandemic also sent European financial markets tumbling again on Monday and raised new fears about a global economic recession. London’s FTSE 100 Index fell 4 per cent and most other major European markets followed suit.

Airline shares were the hardest hit with IAG Group, which owns British Airways, falling 25 per cent. Most analysts expect the United States and other large economies to fall into a recession this year because of the virus. Goldman Sachs predicted the U.S. economy could shrink by 5 per cent in the second quarter.

Mr. Johnson tried to put a brave face on the economic slowdown, arguing that any downturn would be short-lived and that the fundamentals of the economy remained sound.

“Everybody sees that this is going to be, potentially, a severe blow to the economy,” he said Monday. “But if we get it right – if we get the right response and if we work together – then we can ensure it is a short-term problem. … There is absolutely no reason why economies worldwide should not come roaring back.”