With coronavirus cases continuing to increase in most parts of the country, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has not ruled out lockdown rules being strengthened.
England’s chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty has warned the NHS faces the “most dangerous situation” in living memory with record deaths and hospital admissions as a result of the virus.
In a bid to curb rising infection rates and ensure the NHS does not become overwhelmed, it’s believed tougher measures may be introduced.
Pressed on possible restrictions, Mr Hancock told the BBC: “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.
“And that, in terms of the scale of the impact on the cases, that is the most important thing we can do collectively as a society.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer believes lockdown rules “may not be tough enough”, while Prof Peter Horby, chairman of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, said existing measures might have to be tightened further.
He told the BBC: “Now we’re in a situation where everything that was risky in the past is now more risky so we are going to have to be very, very strict about the measures.
“Whether the current restrictions are enough, I think it remains to be seen. It will be a week or two before it becomes clear.
“They may be sufficient but we have to be very vigilant and if there’s any sign that they’re not, then we’re going to have to be even stricter I’m afraid.”
A toughening of measures could mean curfews, nurseries being closed, support bubbles being banned, face masks being made compulsory in all busy outdoor areas and exercise limited to one hour.
We take a look at what it would mean if these measures are brought in.
Boris Johnson and No10 failed to rule out a French-style, full-blown curfew when questioned by the BBC’s Andrew Marr last week.
France has introduced a 6pm order for people to return home in the hardest-hit regions.
Indeed, the UK has never imposed a full night-time curfew on its citizens during the coronavirus pandemic.
The furthest we went was a 10pm ‘curfew’ on pub opening times, but people were not forced home after that.
It’s unlikely we’ll see a curfew in wales any time soon, however, as Wales First Minister Mark Drakeford said today Wales is “not yet in a position” where measures such as curfews need to be imposed.
“It’s important for me to say that numbers in Wales have been improving and we are not in the position we were before Christmas, where Wales had the most difficult figures everywhere in the United Kingdom,” Mr Drakeford told BBC Breakfast.
“We’re below the figures in Northern Ireland, we’re below the figures in England.
“So we’re not yet in a position where we would need to take measures such as curfews but the continuation of the current lockdown regime is necessary in order to relieve the pressure on the NHS.”
He added: “We’re not in a position where curfews are – at this point – part of the repertoire of actions we are considering.”
Nurseries being closed
Schools and universities will remain closed until at least mid-February, but nurseries have so far been unaffected.
But many scientists and experts have called for this to change.
The Early Years Alliance, which represents nurseries and childminders, said some providers are closing despite what the Government has said.
Calum Semple, a paediatrician and a fellow member of SAGE, told BBC Breakfast: “If we’ve gotten to the point of closing the universities, secondary schools and primary schools on the grounds of public health, then I would be looking to close all other non-essential activities.
“And it may be that a political decision has been made here that nurseries are essential. But it’s not a scientific one.”
Keir Starmer has also said nurseries should “probably” be closed – and claims people are “surprised” that they aren’t.
The Labour leader told the BBC: “I think there is a case for looking at nursery schools, we’re talking to the scientists about that.
“I think people are surprised that primary schools were closed but nurseries aren’t.”
He added: “I think they probably should be closed, I do want to talk to the scientists about that.”
Support bubbles being banned
Millions of people are now reliant on a “support bubble” to see another household they’re close to.
The system allows a single-adult household, a couple with a child under one, to permanently bubble up with another household of any size.
However, it’s easy to forget this vital policy only began in England in June, after almost three months of lockdown.
Axing support bubbles would take England back to March – but be hugely unpopular and do a lot of damage to people who now rely on that support.
It comes after figures showed four in 10 adults in Britain formed a bubble to celebrate Christmas Day.
Some 44 per cent of adults in England, Scotland and Wales said they formed a Christmas bubble on December 25, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.
The same proportion said they had not done so, while 10 per cent said this was not permitted in their area.
The public told to wear masks outside
Face coverings may soon be made mandatory in busy public places such as supermarket queues as harsher coronavirus measures are considered by government ministers.
London mayor Sadiq Khan declared a major incident in the capital on Friday and called for face coverings to be worn outside.
It’s thought Health Secretary Matt Hancock and other ministers have been examining the case to extend the use of mask wearing.
One government source told The Telegraph : “There’s not a lot more that we can do.
“We’ve put in these very tough national restrictions. It is a lockdown for everyone all the time.”
The source told the newspaper that face masks could become mandatory in busy outdoor areas, while the rapid spread of the new and highly virulent strain of Covid-19 may also result in stricter social distancing measures.
Exercise limited to one hour
During the March lockdown, people were limited to “one form of exercise per day”, such as a run, walk or cycle.
Contrary to popular belief, this was not time-limited despite Michael Gove suggesting it should be only an hour.
Since summer 2020, the “one form of exercise” limit has vanished and people can take unlimited exercise.
Earlier this week No10 refused to rule out bringing back this limit.
“I think outdoor exercise is really important,” Matt Hancock said.
“We know more about the transmission of the disease, and we know it’s much, much less likely to spread when you are outdoors.”