The introduction of tighter lockdown controls in an effort to improve compliance with the current coronavirus rules have been discussed by officials, reports suggest.
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 implied.
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.
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”.
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Boris Johnson declined to rule out a French-style curfew when questioned by the BBC’s Andrew Marr last week.
However, 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.
Although schools are closed to most pupils, nurseries have remained open thus far.
But the Early Years Alliance, which represents nurseries and childminders, has 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.
Compulsory masks outdoors
When London mayor Sadiq Khan declared a major incident in the capital on Friday, he called for face coverings to be worn outside – something which hasn’t been required in the UK in the pandemic so far.
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 strain of Covid-19 may also result in stricter social distancing measures.
An end to support bubbles
When they were first introduced in the summer, support bubbles brought comfort to thousands of people living alone. But the rules, which are meant to allow only those who live alone to visit just one other household, can easily be misused, as people don’t have to register exactly who is in their support bubble, so it’s hard to prove that people only have one.
Axing support bubbles would take England back to March – but could be hugely unpopular with those living alone.
Limits on exercise
Contrary to popular belief, exercise has never been formally limited to one hour, although people were limited to “one form of exercise per day”, which Michael Gove suggested should last about an hour, in March.
In the summer, the “one form” rule was scrapped and exercise became unlimited.
Asked earlier this week, ministers refused to explicitly rule out bringing back or introducing new limits.
But Matt Hancock said: “I think outdoor exercise is really important.
“We know more about the transmission of the disease, and we know it’s much, much less likely to spread when you are outdoors.”