British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has told cafes, pubs, restaurants, gyms and cinemas across the country to close and stay shut indefinitely to help slow the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.

"I do accept that what we're doing is extraordinary; we're taking away the ancient, inalienable right of free-born people of the United Kingdom to go to the pub, and I can understand how people feel about that," Mr Johnson said.

"It's heartbreaking to think of the businesses that will face difficulties as a result of the measures this country has had to take."

Mr Johnson said the measures were intended to be temporary, with the length of the closures set to depend on how well the UK slowed down the spread of COVID-19.

Businesses could continue to provide takeaway services, he said.

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