Ministers ‘may have to do more’ if lockdown rules ignored, warns PM
Written by on 11 January 2021
Boris Johnson has warned the government “may have to do more” if ministers feel lockdown rules “are not being properly observed”.
As the second week of England’s third national lockdown began, the prime minister faced calls for a tightening of the restrictions in order to drive down COVID-19 infections.
Ministers are already understood to be considering how to achieve greater enforcement of social distancing and mask-wearing in supermarkets.
And asked during a visit to a mass vaccination in Bristol on Monday whether the government should be doing more, Mr Johnson replied: “We’re going to keep the rules under constant review, where we have to tighten them, we will.
“But we have rules in place already which – if they are properly followed – we believe can make a huge, huge difference.
“It’s now people need to focus. When they’re out shopping, whether they’re buying cups of coffee in the park, or whatever it happens to be, they need to think about spreading the disease.
“One contact that you have can be a chain of transmission of this disease.”
The prime minister told the public that “now is the moment of maximum vigilance, maximum observance of the rules”.
“Of course, if we feel things are not being properly observed, then we may have to do more,” he added.
“But, far, far better for people to obey the rules that we have, then to simply promulgate new rules.”
‘Rules are not boundaries to be pushed against’
Earlier, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said the government doesn’t “want to go any tougher” than the current lockdown rules, but suggested there could be a tightening of existing restrictions.
“The lockdown is actually pretty severe, we’re asking people to stay at home, don’t go out, if you have to go out it’s only for exercise,” he told Sky News.
“This virus loves social interaction and we are all pro-social animals, and it’s the worst thing we do is to socialise.
“So, only going out to exercise for a 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 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.”
Mr Zahawi urged people to “behave as if they’ve got the virus” over the next few weeks, as the most vulnerable are vaccinated against coronavirus.
“Our plea is to everybody, each and every one of us, these rules are not boundaries to be pushed against,” he added.
England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, urged the public to play their part – by abiding by lockdown rules – in order to avoid even more COVID deaths.
He warned that the next few weeks would be the “worst weeks of the pandemic” for the NHS, with more than 30,000 people currently in hospital with the virus.
Prof Whitty said that people needed to “double down” and stop any “unnecessary contacts”, as he described how the new COVID variant was “pushing things in a way that the old variant – which was already very bad – was not able to”.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer on Monday suggested nurseries should be closed as part of England’s new lockdown, as he said it was “time to hear from the scientists as to what else can be done”.
“We need to see the evidence behind nurseries, but I think a lot of people will be quite surprised that primary schools are closed and nurseries are open,” he said.
“So that needs to be looked at.”
He also suggested house viewings should be banned as part of the current restrictions, adding: “It is still possible at the moment – as I understand it – to go and view houses if you’re going to buy a house.
“And that wasn’t allowed last March.
“So we’re in this extraordinary situation where, having got to at least as serious, if not a more serious position than in March of last year, we’ve got lesser restrictions in place.
“And we need those in place as quickly as possible.”
‘We shouldn’t be suffering so many deaths’
Sir Keir said the “vast majority of the public are complying with the rules” but criticised the “mixed messages” over COVID restrictions.
“I have seen myself that individuals and families are struggling with what they’re allowed to do and what they’re not allowed to do,” the Labour leader added.
He called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to front a daily news conference to reinforce the “stay at home” message.
Meanwhile, Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner has written to leading business groups to urge them to help ensure all workers are given paid time off to attend their vaccination appointments and to escort vulnerable relatives to appointments.