Mon, 11 Jan 2021
Heath Secretary Matt Hancock (Victoria Jones/PA)
Senior ministers have discussed the prospect of introducing tighter lockdown controls in an effort to improve compliance with the current rules, according to reports.
The Prime Minister reportedly spoke with senior ministers on Sunday to evaluate “whether the current lockdown rules were working” in reducing the spike of coronavirus cases, The Daily Telegraph suggested.
The paper said the Government was considering scrapping the exemption allowing people to exercise with one other person from outside of their household or support bubble.
A Government source is said to have told the paper that the allowance was “being used as an excuse for people to go for a coffee in the park with their friends”, adding: “It may be we tighten up on things like that.”
Ministers are also preparing to tell supermarket bosses to get tougher on policing social distancing restrictions and mask wearing in-store, The Times said.
People could also be asked to wear face coverings in shop queues and even at work, it was claimed.
As well as the Prime Minister’s discussions, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove was said to have chaired a separate emergency committee over the weekend during which attendees examined stricter possible measures and initiatives to boost compliance.
The Cabinet Office, asked to confirm what tighter restrictions were discussed at the meeting, pointed to words by Health Secretary Matt Hancock about the public needing to follow the stay-at-home guidance first and foremost.
Mr Hancock, asked about the prospect of sterner measures, told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show: “I don’t want to speculate because the most important message is not whether the Government will further strengthen the rules.
“The most important thing is that people stay at home and follow the rules that we have got.”
The Cabinet minister said the “majority are following the rules” but warned that even a single slip-up could cost lives.
“Every flexibility can be fatal… this virus is so contagious it passes on and as we’ve seen it’s deadly,” he told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday.
Some experts have branded the current lockdown measures not strict enough, in the face of the more transmissible variant which has spread rapidly in many parts of the country – a position the leader of the Labour Party suggested he endorsed.
Sir Keir Starmer told Marr that the current lockdown rules “may not be tough enough”.
Professor Peter Horby, chairman of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said the Kent variant has made the situation “more risky” and that if the infection rate does not slow down then “we’re going to have to be even stricter”.
It comes as police said a widely-shared video appearing to show a woman being arrested for breaching Covid-19 rules after sitting on a bench was “staged-managed” by anti-lockdown protesters.
The footage shows a woman in Bournemouth being handcuffed and led away by officers as she repeatedly tells them: “I was sitting on a bench.”
But Dorset Police, who confirmed three people were arrested in relation to the alleged incident, said they believed the clip was “planned, stage-managed and recorded” by members of an anti-lockdown protest group who were present in the town on Saturday.