Coronavirus: Outdoor exercise could be banned if Britons continue to flout lockdown rules, government warns

‘Let’s not have a minority spoiling it for everybody,’ says health secretary

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Sunday 05 April 2020 10:15 BST
Outdoor exercise 'could be banned' if Britons keep breaking lockdown rules, warns government

Matt Hancock has warned the public that a tougher lockdown could be enforced – with outdoor exercise banned – if strict coronavirus guidelines on social distancing continue to be flouted.

The health secretary said that people sunbathing in parks during the warmest weather of the year so far were breaking restrictions outlined by Boris Johnson almost a fortnight ago to curb the spread of the disease.

On Sunday, the UK death toll rose by 621, after seven healthcare professionals died, bringing the total to 4,934.

As it stands, the government’s lockdown guidelines allow for one exercise session a day; a run, cycle or walk. Ministers believe exercise is crucial for physical and mental health during the pandemic.

“But if the result of that is that too many people go out and flout the other rules because they say, ‘Well if I can exercise then it’s fine for me to do other things’ then I’m afraid we will have to take action,” Mr Hancock told the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme.

He added: “I don’t want to have to take that action, of course I don’t, but we have already demonstrated that we are prepared to take the action that’s necessary to get this virus under control.

“So my message is really clear. If you don’t want us to have to take the step to ban exercise of all forms outside of your own home then you’ve got to follow the rules and the vast majority people are following the rules. Let’s not have a minority spoiling it for everybody.”

Later on Sunday, however, Mr Hancock appeared to row back on his warning, suggesting there were no “imminent” changes to government restrictions on social distancing, including exercise. ”What we are doing is being absolutely clear that the current rules must be followed,” he told a Downing Street press conference hours later.

Speaking alongside him, Dr Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer for England, said: “It is not just what you are doing but how you are doing it. If you are sitting on a park bench, people tend to accumulate – it is very difficult to prevent that.

“Having rules where we are getting all of the benefits and minimising the risks and harms is an important approach to maintain.

“We have set those rules, we are enforcing against those rules and we will reiterate those rules, because that is the best way to be able to bend the curve down and stop the spread of the virus.”

Labour’s new leader, Sir Keir Starmer, said his party would support government ministers if they believed a tougher lockdown was necessary to stem the spread of coronavirus. He told the BBC he would engage constructively with Conservatives and vowed not to seek to score party political points – nor demand the impossible – during the crisis.

Asked if he would support further restrictions on exercise if people flout the rules, Sir Keir said: “Yes we would – we do have to take whatever steps are necessary, and social distancing, staying indoors is really difficult for people, it’s particularly difficult if you don’t have a garden, if you’re in a flat; and I know there are many people in overcrowded accommodation.

“But we’ve got to get through this, and every time people break the guidance from the government, they put other people at risk.”

Angela Rayner, the new deputy leader of the Labour Party, who has had symptoms of coronavirus, said the health secretary should have stayed at home for longer than seven days after he tested positive for Covid-19.

The government’s guidelines state that if you have symptoms of coronavirus, you need to self-isolate at home for seven days or longer if you still have a temperature, and anyone you live with should stay in for 14 days even if they do not have any symptoms.

Speaking to Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Ms Rayner said: “I’m very disappointed that Matt Hancock, after seven days of having the virus, went out when the World Health Organisation has said you should self-isolate for 14 days.

“I think it’s right that we do that because I cannot stress enough the severity of the symptoms that I have suffered, as you can tell from how breathless I am still now, and I’m day nine, day ten,” she added. “I think the government really need to give that clarity and continue to support people doing the right thing.”

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