Exercise and supermarket lockdown rules face crackdown over ‘peril’ to the NHS

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People exercising and going to the supermarket face a further crackdown as the government tightens up enforcement of lockdown rules.

Boris Johnson held crisis talks with ministers yesterday after coronavirus cases continued to surge despite a national lockdown in England.

According to the Times he told them the situation in the NHS was “parlous and perilous”, with more than 30,000 Covid patients in hospital – well over the first peak.

Ministers and scientists fear even the current strict lockdown – which orders people to stay at home except for a limited list of exemptions – may not be enough to contain a more transmissible new variant of Covid-19.

While ministers say they do not want to make the lockdown itself even stricter, it’s reported they are planning to tighten up enforcement including at supermarkets.

A minister reported this could include ensuring there are queues outside supermarkets and one-way systems inside, like in the first lockdown.

Exercise is allowed, but the rule allowing you to go with one other person could be in doubt
(Image: Marcin Nowak/LNP)

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Meanwhile, No10 insiders are concerned the rule allowing people to exercise with one other person outside their household – which didn’t exist in the March lockdown – is being “abused” for socialising.

The exercise rule is being kept under review along with all others, a source said.

Matt Hancock yesterday refused to rule out curfews, closing nurseries, ending some support bubbles, forcing only an hour of exercise outside, or telling people in crowded outdoor spaces to wear masks.

Sources later suggested those sorts of large-scale rule changes were unlikely.

But today England’s Chief Medical Officer suggested people may want to wear a mask in crowded outdoor spaces, like markets.

And a minister warned people “don’t sit” on a park bench – as exercise is allowed, but leisure and recreation is not. Vaccine Minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “These rules are not boundaries to be pushed at.”

Vaccine Minister Nadhim Zahawi warned people “don’t sit” on a park bench
(Image: PA)

He told Times Radio: “Don't go out and sit or have that opportunity of social interaction because you're helping the virus and that's what we want to avoid.

“Because ultimately, we want to see the death numbers come down rapidly, which is why we're focusing on the most vulnerable people.”

Mr Zahawi also hinted at a supermarket rules crackdown.

He told Sky News “we don’t want to go any tougher” with the lockdown rules themselves, but they would be enforced more tightly.

“Ultimately the most important thing to do now is to make sure that actually enforcement and of course the compliance with the rules when people are going into supermarkets are being adhered to,” he said.

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He added: “We’re asking people to stay at home. Don’t go out. If you have to go out, it’s only for exercise.

“This virus loves social interaction and we are all social animals and it’s the worst thing we can do is to socialise.

“So, only going out for exercise, limited time, stay at home.

“We are concerned that for example in supermarkets we need to make sure people actually wear masks and follow the one way system rule in supermarkets, and of course when they are at capacity, to operate safely people wait outside supermarkets.

“We don’t want to go any tougher because this is a pretty tough lockdown. What we need is people to behave as if they’ve got the virus so that we can bring this virus under control whilst we vaccinate.”

England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said “tinkering with the rules may be useful” but the “far more important” thing is that people obey the rules that are already there.

However, Prof Whitty also suggested people may want to wear masks in some outdoor situations.

He told the BBC that outdoor contact is generally low risk, but if people are queuing tightly or “huddled together round a market stall, that is a risk.

“In that situation there might be some logic to people thinking about wearing masks."

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