Six ways Covid lockdown could be made even tougher as virus rips through UK
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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.
As of Monday morning, it appears unlikely many lockdown rules will actually be changed wholesale. That means some things like curfews seem unlikely even though Matt Hancock refused to rule them out.
But ministers are clear there could be some tightening up and greater enforcement.
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.
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"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."
We take a look at the various ways the rules could be tweaked or strengthened – some more likely than others.
More strict enforcement in supermarkets
One way systems could be formally brought back
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 said this could include ensuring there are queues outside supermarkets and one-way systems inside, like in the first lockdown.
Vaccine Minister Nadhim Zahawi 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.
He added: "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.”
More limits on exercise
During the March lockdown, people were limited to exercise such as a run, walk or cycle, either alone or with other members of their household.
But this time, exercise can be taken with one person from one other household, in a public place like a park.
No10 insiders are concerned this rule is being “abused” for socialising. The exercise rule is being kept under review along with all others, a source said.
Currently, people can take unlimited exercise
(Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)
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Like in the first lockdown, people are advised to only take one form of exercise per day. But like in the first lockdonw this isn't in law.
Mr Hancock has failed to rule out limiting exercise to one hour a day – something that was never actually a formal rule before.
Meanwhile, police will enforce more strictly against people going to the park for leisure or picnics rather than exercise.
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.”
The public told to wear masks outside
Reports suggest face coverings could be recommended in busy public places such as supermarket queues.
London mayor Sadiq Khan declared a major incident in the capital on Friday and called for face coverings to be worn outside.
It's reported Health Secretary Matt Hancock and other ministers have been examining the case to extend the use of mask wearing.
A source told the Telegraph 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.
Chris Whitty also suggested people may want to wear masks in some outdoor situations.
The Chief Medical Officer 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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Nurseries being closed
Schools and universities will remain closed until at least mid-February, but nurseries have so far been unaffected.
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."
There have been calls for nurseries to shut
(Image: AFP via Getty Images)
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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."
Boris Johnson, No10 and Matt Hancock have all failed to rule out a French-style, full-blown curfew when questioned.
France has introduced a 6pm order for people to return home in the hardest-hit regions.
However, sources suggest such a drastic measure seems unlikely.
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.
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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.
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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.
Sources suggest such a drastic change is unlikely, even though Matt Hancock refused to rule it out.
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.