Five ways the lockdown could be made even stricter
The Government is preparing to toughen enforcement of the national lockdown measures as coronavirus infections continue to soar.
With cases rising in most parts of the country and both hospital admissions and fatalities reaching record levels in England, there are concerns the current restrictions are not being adhered to as closely as they were in spring last year.
The country’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty has already warned that the NHS faces the ‘most dangerous situation’ in living memory and urged people this morning to ‘double down’ and stop any ‘unnecessary contacts’ as we enter the ‘worst weeks of the pandemic’ for the NHS.
He told BBC Breakfast: ‘This is everybody’s problem, any single unnecessary contact with someone is a potential link in a chain of transmission that will lead to a vulnerable person.
‘We’ve all got to, as individuals, help the NHS, help our fellow citizens, by minimising the amount of unnecessary contacts we have.’
Prime Minister Boris Johnson reportedly spoke with senior ministers on Sunday to evaluate ‘whether the current lockdown rules were working’ in reducing the spike of coronavirus cases.
It comes after Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and some experts said the current lockdown measures are not strict enough to control the more transmissible variant which has spread rapidly in many parts of the country.
Here, we take a look at how the lockdown measures could be tightened.
Limits on the number of people let into supermarkets at once
Ministers are preparing to tell supermarket bosses to get tougher on policing social distancing restrictions and mask wearing in-store, according to the Times.
A Government source told the newspaper: ‘We need to make sure supermarkets in particular are following the rules given this is one of the few places where you still see people from different households in the same indoor space.’
The crackdown could see all shoppers asked to wear masks, limits placed on the number allowed in at one time and one-way systems enforced.
Other shops deemed to be non-essential or failing to operate in a ‘Covid-secure’ way may be told to shut, the Daily Mail reports.
A Whitehall source told the newspaper: ‘There is a feeling that people have just gone back to doing whatever they want, so local authorities will work with supermarkets and other places that are open to make sure they are still Covid-secure.
‘That could well mean a return to capacity limits.’
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi raised concerns of people not sticking to the rules in supermarkets or when exercising outside.
Pressed on whether the current restrictions are enough, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We don’t want to use tougher measures, the lockdown is tough, schools are shut, but it is important to remember this virus loves social interactions.
‘We’re reviewing all the restrictions, but these are pretty tough at the moment. I am worried about supermarkets and people actually wearing masks and following the one-way system, and making sure when it’s at capacity they wait outside the supermarket.
‘I’m worried about some of the pictures I’ve seen of social interactions in parks, if you have to exercise you can go out for exercise only.’
Exceptions to the ‘stay at home’ order tightened
Under the current measures people can only leave their homes for limited reasons, which include for food shopping, to take exercise, for medical needs and travelling for work when absolutely necessary.
According to the Daily Telegraph, 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 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.’
Asked about the spread of coronavirus outdoors, Professor Whitty said this morning: ‘We think it still remains the case that it’s much lower transmission out of doors, provided people keep their distance, than indoors.
‘The two things which are absolutely universally true are that indoors is worse than outdoors, and secondly, that the longer the contact, the greater the risk of transmission.’
Professor Whitty told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that fleeting contact, such as a jogger running past, is ‘extremely low risk’.
But he added: ‘It’s the much longer contacts in close proximity that can still happen outdoors – if people, for example, are crowded together in a queue… if they’re really huddled together around a market stall or something, that is a risk with this virus.
‘And people in that situation, there might be some logic to people thinking about wearing masks, but a much better thing to do is to minimise going out for an unnecessary trip in the first place.’
Masks made mandatory outdoors
Declaring a ‘major incident’ across London last week, mayor Sadiq Khan called for face masks to be worn routinely outside the home, including in crowded places and supermarket queues, in a bid to curb case numbers.
Professor Whitty emphasised the importance of face masks, adding that they should not just be worn ‘as a fashion accessory’.
During a Q&A on BBC Radio 5 Live, England’s chief medical officer said: ‘It’s absolutely there to protect other people.
‘I really would encourage people – if they are going on buses or on the Tube or to the shops – and do it properly over the nose and mouth and not just as a fashion accessory.
‘In terms of outdoor situations, the only risk outdoors is if you’re in a crowded environment. Outdoors is much lower risk than indoors.’
On whether they should be worn at all times outdoors, he added: ‘I think that the much more important thing is that people should not be leaving their home unless they absolutely have to.
‘And where they do, try and keep their distance from people.
‘That is much more important. I think if people minimise their contacts, stay at home unless they absolutely have to, and keep a distance from people outdoors, the risk is still low.’
Nurseries being closed
Announcing the national lockdown earlier this month, Mr Johnson said schools across the UK will once again close to all pupils except those of key workers and others deemed vulnerable.
However, nurseries have remained open.
Asked about those too being shut over the weekend, Sir Keir Starmer suggested they ‘probably should be closed’.
He 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.’
Sir Keir added: ‘I think they probably should be closed, I do want to talk to the scientists about that.’
Professor Whitty said this morning: ‘I think that the reason that nursery schools are open is to allow people who need to go to work or need to do particular activities to do so, and we all do know that children are at very, very low risk of this virus relative to other ages.
‘The fact that nurseries are open, it’s not a risk to the children.
‘But what people should be trying to do, and I just can’t reiterate this enough, is just minimise the number of unnecessary contracts they have with other households.’
Although other European countries hit by large outbreaks of Covid-19 have decided at one stage or another to impose curfews to keep people indoors, the measure has yet to be fully implemented in the UK.
The closest measure was the 10pm curfew imposed on pubs, bars and restaurants last September – but people were not ordered to go straight home after the deadline.
There were calls for a form of curfew to be imposed temporarily over New Year to try and safeguard hospital beds, but it does not appear to have gone any further than that as of yet.
Wales seems to be the only nation in the UK to have ruled one out for now.
First Minister Mark Drakeford said last week the country is ‘not yet in a position’ where such stringent measures need to be imposed to control the spread of Covid-19.
He told BBC Breakfast: ‘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.
‘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.’
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