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With coronavirus cases continuing to increase in most parts of the country – fears are on the rise that England's third lockdown could still be tightened.
The threat of changes comes as Matt Hancock said that lockdown restrictions in England will remain in place for as “long as they are necessary".
Boris Johnson is coming under increasing pressure to clampdown on the rules amid fears they are too weak to contain the current spread of the virus.
Ministers are also making a push on compliance – with Home Secretary Priti Patel appearing at yesterday's No 10 press conference with a warning that the Government will back police in enforcing the rules.
Today, Matt Hancock urged people not to “take the mickey” out of the restrictions, but said it was “impossible to know” when they could be eased.
“We will keep the restrictions in place not a moment longer than they are necessary, but we will keep them in place as long as they are necessary,” he told Sky News.
Mr Hancock has said restrictions are under review and will be around as long as is necessary
(Image: POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Mr Hancock said the current rules were always “under review” but “what really matters now is the degree to which everybody follows the existing rules.”
He added: “Of course you can always make changes at the margin, but we brought in a very significant restriction, the stay at home measures… It is possible then to make further restrictions, but what I’d say is that the most important thing is compliance with the existing measures, that’s the thing that is going to make the difference.”
England's chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty said earlier this week that the NHS faces the “most dangerous situation” in living memory, with record deaths and hospital admissions as a result of the virus.
As of Wednesday, it appears unlikely many lockdown rules will actually be changed wholesale – but with fears growing about people following the rules ministers are coming under increased pressure to revisit regulations.
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.
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Pressure has been building for several days – with Labour leader Keir Starmer claiming 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.
No mask-no entry in force in supermarkets
Rules in supermarkets could be tightened
Boris Johnson has urged the public to respect coronavirus regulations when out grocery shopping and buying takeaway coffee, amid “deep” concerns from food retail workers over their safety.
It comes as several supermarket chains introduced policies insisting that no one can enter a supermarket without a face covering.
A mask is already required – but the rule has rarely been enforced.
Shopworkers’ union Usdaw said that it had been “inundated” with complaints from its members – who are classed as key workers – and called for supermarkets to revert to more stringent in-store measures.
Retail bosses have also suggested that further police support is needed to help enforce measures, which they say are leading to an increase in abuse towards staff.
The prime minister said people needed to “do the right thing” by adhering to social distancing when out.
“We need to enforce the rules in supermarkets. When people are getting takeaway drinks, in cafes, then they need to avoid spreading the disease there, avoid mingling too much,” he said.
More limits on exercise – and changes to who can meet
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 lockdown this isn't in law.
What is different is that you can meet someone from another household to exercise with – so long as you are socially distanced.
But reports have suggested that this may be the first change in exercise policy – with a return to only one household being able to take part in a given activity on the cards.
Mr Hancock did not rule out a change to the rule on exercise when quizzed on it Wednesday morning.
He said he "very reluctant to remove this rule" which people see as a "lifeline".
But he added: "There are some people who are stretching that rule.
"Therefore people say you should get rid of the rule altogether
“What I’d rather is everybody follows that rule and doesn't stretch it or flex it.
“I’m really glad to see there’s an increased police presence… People should not take the mickey out of the rules and they shouldn’t stretch the rules."
Markets may also be instructed to close
(Image: AFP via Getty Images)
Outdoor markets, shops running click and collect, and garden centres may be told to shut their doors.
Few places remain open but those that do might be told to shut their doors as fears grow about the last vestiges of public mixing permitted under the rules.
A Downing Street source has suggested that said Boris Johnson would need clear data showing problems before he ordered further damaging closures.
But pictures of people gathering in markets or in queues for click and collect centres are understood to have caused rumblings in Whitehall – leading many to question their exclusion from the current rules.
Three Metre Rule?
Ministers are under pressure to increase the social distancing gap to stop the spread of Covid.
Leading members of the SAGE scientific advisory panel want the measure raised from "one metre plus" to "two metres plus".
In practice this would change the limit to three metres – nearly 10ft.
But medics and scientists have expressed scepticism about how effective any change like this would be.
Asked if a three-metre rule would be imposed in England, a Downing Street spokesman told the Daily Mail: "There are no current plans to change social distancing rules. However, everything is kept under review."
Pause in house viewings and house moves
It looks like changes may be coming on the rules on moving house – with a halt on people moving into homes in England potentially on the cards.
A change in guidance on the Government website has suggested that moves may be halted "locally or nationally for a short period of time” if the lockdown requires it.
Labour leader Keir Starmer has also called for property viewings to be stopped during the current lockdown.“locally or nationally for a short period of time”, according to government guidance.
Estate agents, house viewings and house moves could all be paused
(Image: NurPhoto via Getty Images)
England lockdown may tighten in days with 'curbs on moving home and click-and-collect'
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.
People wearing face masks walk pass empty tables outside bars and restaurants in Covent Garden
Face masks could become compulsory in all busy outdoor areas as Covid cases surge
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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Last night, Matt Hancock, the health secretary, categorically ruled out any changes to the support or childcare bubble system.
Mr Hancock said: "I can rule out removing the bubbles that we have in place – the childcare bubbles [and] the support bubbles are very important and we’re going to keep them.
"I know how important they are to people and they are an important part of the system that we have got to support people whilst also having these tough measures that are necessary."