Lockdown rules ‘not boundaries to be pushed against’ – as minister concerned over supermarkets

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Lockdown rules are “not boundaries to be pushed against”, a government minister has warned – as he admitted there was concern at non-compliance with social distancing measures in supermarkets.

As the second week of England’s third national lockdown begins, ministers are considering how to achieve greater enforcement of social distancing and mask-wearing in supermarkets.

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Scales to weigh loose fresh produce are seen in the UK supermarket Asda, as the store launches a new sustainability strategy, in Leeds, Britain, October 19, 2020. Picture taken October 19, 2020. REUTERS/Molly Darlington
Image: Ministers are considering how to achieve greater enforcement of social distancing in supermarkets

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.

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“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.

“Just think, every social interaction you may have – that could be an incident of transfer, of transmission of the virus.

“The supermarkets have done a tremendous job and I want to compliment and thank them all for the incredible work they’ve done – and also coming forward with offers of areas we can use for vaccination hubs and others.

“But, 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.”

Mr Zahawi said the government’s latest vaccination data, due to be published later on Monday, would show a “significant ramp up” in the number of people who have received their first dose of a COVID vaccine.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock is due to front a Downing Street news conference on the government’s vaccination plan from 5pm on Monday.

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”.

“It can be passed on, and very often is passed on, in households when people invite people into their home and meet them who are not from their household,” he told the BBC.

“Of course, it can be passed on in any other environment: outside, in shops, in any kind of environment, and an indoor setting.

“The key thing to understand is that when you meet people from another household under any circumstances – and they’re very often your friends, your family – but those are the kind of situations where the virus is passed on.

“It doesn’t care who you are, it doesn’t care whether they’re your friends. If you meet someone from another household, the virus has an opportunity to be transmitted.”

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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.”

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‘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 stuggling 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.

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