Lockdown measures could be tightened within days if people keep flouting the rules, the Mail can reveal today.Downing Street insisted today the foc
Lockdown measures could be tightened within days if people keep flouting the rules, the Mail can reveal today.
Downing Street insisted today the focus was on better compliance with existing Covid regulations.
But sources warned ministers were ready to tighten the lockdown further unless the situation improved by the weekend.
‘The compliance data is mixed,’ an insider said. ‘We should have better data by the weekend and at that point we will have to decide whether we need to go further.’
Extra measures being considered include removing the exemption that allows two people to meet outdoors to exercise.
Another source said some ministers were pushing for more businesses to be closed, including estate agents, outdoor markets and click-and-collect retail.
Scientists are also arguing for the two-metre social distancing rule to be increased to three metres.
A Downing Street source said Boris Johnson would need clear data showing problems before he ordered further damaging closures.
The Prime Minister told the Cabinet yesterday it was ‘more important than ever that the public stay at home’.
A Downing Street source said Boris Johnson (pictured at a Cabinet meeting yesterday) would need clear data showing problems before he ordered further damaging closures
No 10 pins hopes on us following the rules… but keeps the big stick in reverse
HOW RULES MAY CHANGE
End exercise meetings
Ministers are considering removing the exemption that allows two people to meet outdoors to exercise.
The exemption, which did not exist in the original lockdown, was included as a lifeline for the lonely. But scenes of crowded parks have led to concerns it is being abused.
Increase mask wearing
Health officials are examining plans to make masks mandatory in crowded outdoor areas such as supermarket queues and markets. Chief medical officer Chris Whitty said this week that masks were not necessary in most outdoor settings but there ‘might be some logic’ to wearing them in crowded spaces.
Close more businesses
Some ministers are pushing for the closure of more businesses, such as estate agents and click and collect retail operations – many of which were shut in the first lockdown. Supporters of the move say it would help limit the spread of the virus and reduce the reasons for people to go out. No10 has not ruled it out.
3m social distancing
Some Government scientists are pushing for the two-metre social distancing rule to be extended to three, but officials say the idea is on the back-burner for now.
Shut churches and nurseries
London Mayor Sadiq Khan has called for places of worship to close while Labour wants nurseries shut. But ministers insist neither move is being considered for now.
As officials reported another 1,243 deaths from Covid:
- Mr Johnson faced the wrath of China after blaming its ‘demented’ traditional medical practices for the pandemic;
- England’s largest hospital trust said it was redeploying staff to critical care and halting some elective surgery to avoid being overwhelmed by Covid cases;
- New figures showed more than half of virus patients in intensive care are in their 50s or 60s;
- Major supermarkets united in formally banning customers without face masks;
- Statistics chiefs said more Britons had died over the past 12 months than in any year for more than a century;
- Police leaders demanded more clarity on exercise regulations;
- The highly infectious South African variant of Covid-19 had spread, with up to 30 cases in the UK;
- Health Secretary Matt Hancock suggested police could be prioritised alongside teachers and shop workers in the second phase of the vaccine rollout.
Ministers hope infections are ‘levelling off’ in some areas. Latest data revealed that 45,533 people tested positive for the virus on Monday, taking the seven-day average down by 0.5 per cent – the first fall in weeks.
However, some government scientists fear the true case rate is more than 250,000 a day.
They have warned the Prime Minister that, even with the rollout of the vaccine, the death rate may not start to fall until the middle of next month.
At a press conference yesterday, Priti Patel was asked why the lockdown rules were laxer than those introduced last March.
The Home Secretary initially said the regulations were ‘tough enough’ and simply needed to be followed more closely.
But she then confirmed ministers were looking again at whether the restrictions need to be tightened.
‘These issues are live within government,’ she said. ‘Rules are always under review. We are constantly, right now, looking at where we are at.’
Miss Patel also revealed that police had handed out 45,000 Covid fines – and warned that a minority were ‘putting the health of the nation at risk’.
The PM’s spokesman said: ‘If we need to take further action we will. But the important thing now is we are asking people to stay at home.’
Ministers are growing alarmed by the emergence of a Covid hotspot on Merseyside, which has overtaken London as the area where the virus is increasing fastest.
A surge in cases there could be embarrassing for the Government, which made great play of the decision to move the region into Tier Two at the end of the second lockdown while most of the rest of the North West stayed in Tier Three.
The highest overall case rate in England remains Barking and Dagenham in London.
Mask flouters on tubes, buses and trains WILL be fined: Police chief’s warning – as Priti Patel warns of get-tough regime with lock-down rule breakers
By David Wilcock, Jack Wright and Jack Elsom for MailOnline
Police last night warned that people caught not wearing a face mask on public transport will be fined as Priti Patel backed an even tougher crackdown on lockdown rule-breakers.
National Police Chiefs’ Council chairman Martin Hewitt said officers would no longer ‘waste time’ trying to reason with lockdown sceptics as deaths from the latest deadly wave of coronavirus continue to soar.
Speaking at a Downing Street press briefing, he gave examples of shocking ‘irresponsible behaviour’ from people not heeding warnings – even with more than 1,200 people dying every day.
They included a £30-per-head boat party in Hertfordshire with more than 40 people, a Surrey house party whose host tried to claim it was a business event and a minibus full of people from different households caught travelling from Cheltenham into Wales for a walk.
Standing beside Mr Hewitt, the Home Secretary said a minority of the public are ‘putting the health of the nation at risk’ as she backed the tougher police approach to lockdown rules.
Priti Patel used yesterday’s TV conference, during which she was flanked by the chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, Martin Hewitt, to plead with people to follow the rules
Mr Hewitt said: ‘Organising parties or other large gatherings is dangerous, selfish and totally irresponsible in light of the current threat that we face. Organisers will be fined. But so too will the people who choose to attend
Infections drop, but daily deaths hit 1,243
Infections are falling for the first time in weeks in a glimmer of hope on the second deadliest day of the pandemic.
Today 1,243 deaths were recorded in the UK. The horrifying death toll is higher than the 1,224 at the peak of the first wave on April 21, but below the record 1,325 last Friday.
Weekly cases have fallen for the first time since the second national lockdown ended six weeks ago.
Yesterday some 45,553 new cases were reported in the UK, compared to 60,916 last Tuesday and a high of 62,916 last Wednesday.
The infection rate per 100,000 has decreased for three consecutive days and is currently 592, compared to 641 on January 4.
It is the first time it has fallen since the start of December, when it was 152.
While pressure on the NHS is increasing, admissions are stabilising in London and the South East. Data shows there are a record 35,075 Covid-19 patients in UK hospitals, up 70 per cent from Christmas Day.
She warned that officers are moving more quickly to issuing fines where people are clearly breaching coronavirus regulations, with nearly 45,000 fixed penalty notices issued across the UK since March.
It comes as No10 considers imposing Chinese-style outdoor mask mandates, curfews and 10ft social distancing to tighten up the shutdown amid pressure from scientists and Sir Keir Starmer to clamp down harder.
Mr Hewitt said: ‘Organising parties or other large gatherings is dangerous, selfish and totally irresponsible in light of the current threat that we face. Organisers will be fined. But so too will the people who choose to attend.
‘Not wearing a face covering on a bus or a train is dangerous. It risks the lives of other travellers including those critical workers who must continue to use public transport to do their important work. So on those systems, unless you are exempt, you can expect a fine.’
He urged people to take personal responsibility for their actions, adding: ‘We will talk to people and we will explain. But I think the rules are clear enough for people to understand, we are 10 months into this process.’
Ms Patel said ‘far too often’ police officers were risking their health and lives by ‘coming into close contact with people, including those who deny the very existence of coronavirus, to keep us all safe’. She added: ‘We are now at a critical stage in our battle against this virus.
‘To protect those that you care about, and the capacity of our hospitals to protect us all, please stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives.’
Ms Patel insisted the coronavirus rules that people need to follow are clear.
Asked why the regulations were not as tough as the first lockdown despite the parlous situation faced by the NHS, the Home Secretary told a Downing Street press conference: ‘The rules are actually very simple and clear.
‘We are meant to stay at home and only leave home for a very, very limited number of reasons.’
Outdoor recreation was permitted ‘in a very, very restricted and limited way, staying local’. She added that police had set out ‘the type of egregious breaches that we will clamp down on’.
But ministers are under mounting pressure to clarify exactly how far people can travel for exercise amid public and police confusion over ‘woolly’ lockdown rules.
Government advice urges people to stay ‘local’ but does not specify a distance in law, which has resulted in officers making their own interpretations and incorrectly fining walkers driving just five miles from home.
Boris Johnson, who has himself come under fire for cycling in the Olympic Park seven miles from his Downing Street flat, has been urged to follow the devolved administrations and set clear boundaries.
In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon has permitted people to travel up to five miles outside their local authority area, and in Northern Ireland, the Executive has placed a 10-mile limit. Wales also has a ‘stay local’ rule.
Hopes of immediate clarification for England appeared to be scotched yesterday as a senior police officer said people should instead use their own judgement.
Mr Hewitt told the No10 press briefing: ‘I don’t think we’re in a position where we want to set a particular distance, because if a police officer stopped somebody how would you prove that a person is within or outside that distance? I think it is simpler than that.’
His remarks fly in the face of demands from colleagues who branded the existing guidance ‘incredibly vague’.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick yesterday threw her weight behind calls for a definition of the advice to stay ‘local’ to be enshrined in law.
And Lib Dem MP Tim Farron wrote a letter to the Prime Minister calling for him to provide clarity, dismissing the current advice as ‘clear as mud’.
Policing minister Kit Malthouse raised eyebrows yesterday after suggesting people could travel up to 70 miles for exercise.
No mask, no shopping! Supermarkets’ crack down – amid fears of attacks on staff
By Sean Poulter Consumer Affairs Editor for the Daily Mail
Britain’s biggest supermarkets united tonight in formally banning customers without masks.
The stores have also urged customers to shop alone in an effort to help combat increasing infections.
Wearing masks will now be strictly enforced at Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Morrisons, Marks & Spencer and Lidl.
The move follows pressure from the Government, with some ministers suggesting that retailers have not been doing enough to protect the public.
Many industry leaders are privately furious, however, that shops are being treated as scapegoats for soaring infections.
Read my lips? Security guard remonstrates with woman entering a Morrisons without a mask in London
Asda shopper in Swindon has full trolley but no coverage
There are concerns the clampdown will trigger flashpoints at supermarket doors, with staff facing abuse and even violence.
Tesco explained its tough line, saying: ‘To protect our customers and colleagues, we won’t let anyone into our stores who is not wearing a face covering, unless they are exempt in line with Government guidance.
‘We will have additional security in stores to help manage this.’
Waitrose said: ‘Marshals will be positioned at the entrances of all supermarkets. They will have disposable masks for customers who do not have their own and will deny admission to anyone refusing to comply.’
In contrast, both the Co-op and Iceland have refused to enforce wearing masks for fear it will lead to attacks on employees.
The two stores and the British Retail Consortium (BRC) insist the police are responsible for enforcing the rules – not shop workers. The penalty is £200 for a first offence.
The Co-op has seen an 80 per cent rise in attacks, including swearing, spitting and physical assaults, during the pandemic.
Cover-up in Aisle Three: Shopper at Morrisons in Thamesmead has brought along her face mask – but failed to utilise it correctly
It said: ‘We have strict policies about ensuring our colleagues are not placed in harm’s way.’ Iceland said: ‘In view of the rising tide of abuse and violence directed at our store colleagues, we do not expect them to confront the small minority of customers who aggressively refuse to comply.’
It has been suggested the Government could increase the social distancing rule for shops from 1m to 2m, and also ban non-essential stores offering ‘click and collect’.
The majority of retail industry bosses argue both plans would be a disaster – particularly for small shops. BRC director of business and regulation, Tom Ironside, said: ‘The ability for non-essential stores, from florists to toy and book shops, to offer click and collect services has been a lifeline.’
John Lewis has already decided to partially suspend its click and collect service from department stores, although it will still be available through Waitrose.