The prospect of even tougher restrictions in London have been raised amid fears in the Government that the latest lockdown is not being strictly enough observed to stop the new Covid-19 variant from spreading.
Among the measures reportedly being considered is a limit on the number of times people can leave their house in a week, wearing masks outdoors and restrictions on support bubbles.
It has been reported that Boris Johnson met with his cabinet over the weekend to discuss more severe measures over fears that the rules are currently not being followed.
And speaking on Sunday (January 10), Matt Hancock refused to rule out stricter restrictions being implemented in London and nationwide, adding that the health service was under “very serious pressure.”
The Daily Mail reported that the Government had looked at possible curfews, closing nurseries, ending support bubbles, limits on exercise and requiring people to wear masks outside.
They even alleged that one of the changes being considered including introducing a ban on people leaving their homes more than once a week.
At the moment, Londoners can exercise with their household, support bubble or one other person from a different household, and can leave the house with a ‘reasonable excuse’, including food shopping, healthcare, essential work and more.
The police can take action against you if you leave home without a ‘reasonable excuse’, and issue you with a fine (Fixed Penalty Notice) of £200 for the first offence.
But government insiders told the Financial Times on Sunday that Mr Johnson’s immediate priority was to enforce existing measures instead of introducing further restrictions.
The current, third lockdown for England was announced last Monday, with rules including a legal stay-at-home order and the closure of schools, universities, pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops.
But with the country just past 80,000 Covid deaths, virus infection rates across nearly all south London boroughs are currently in excess of 1,000, although this been the case since before Christmas.
Another 55,000 coronavirus cases were reported in the UK on Sunday, and hospitals are at risk of being overwhelmed, leading ministers to express concern that lockdown rules are not being adhered to as closely as in March 2019.
Matt Hancock, health secretary, on Sunday told the BBC the health service was under “very serious pressure” and refused to rule out further lockdown restrictions being imposed.
“People need to not just follow the letter of the rules but follow the spirit as well and play their part.
“I don’t want to speculate because the most important message is not whether the government will further strengthen the rules. The most important thing is that people stay at home and follow the rules that we have got.”
Prior to the weekend, professor Robert West, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours (SPIGB) warned that current restrictions were “still allowing a lot of activity which is spreading the virus.”
“Because we have the more infectious variant, which is somewhere around 50 per cent more infectious than last time round in March, that means that if we were to achieve the same result as we got in March, we would have to have a stricter lockdown, and it’s not stricter. It’s actually less strict.”