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COVID-19: How could England’s lockdown restrictions get tougher?

The government is urging the public to stick to lockdown rules as coronavirus cases soar across the UK.

But Boris Johnson has warned his ministers “may have to do more” if they felt lockdown rules “are not being properly observed” after crowds were pictured on beaches and in parks over the weekend.

England’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, said the only way to prevent avoidable deaths was to stay at home whenever possible.

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Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccine roll-out minister, told Sky News the government did not want to “go any tougher” on the rules, but said existing measures might be more tightly enforced.

And Health Secretary Matt Hancock would not rule out strengthening the restrictions.

Sky News looks at how the rules in England could get tighter:

Exercise

The lockdown rules state exercise is one of the few reasons why you may leave your home.

You are allowed to exercise with one other person from outside your household, or with your household/support bubble.

This should only be once a day and the rules say you should not travel outside your local area.

Mr Zahawi said he was concerned people were meeting up at parks and beaches under the guise of exercise.

A government source suggested exercise could be restricted further, such as no meeting of households, if people continued to go against the rules.

Supermarkets

People in England are allowed to leave home to buy items at essential shops, mainly supermarkets.

But Mr Zahawi said ministers were concerned people were not adhering to the rules when they go food shopping, and supermarkets were not following guidance either.

“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,” he told Sky News.

“And, of course, when they are at capacity – to operate safely, people wait outside supermarkets.”

A November study by Public Health England found supermarkets were the most common places to be exposed to COVID-19.

During the first lockdown, most supermarkets operated a one-way system and had security at the door to limit the numbers inside.

Those rules have since been loosened in some shops and the government is now urging for them to be reintroduced – and for people to wear a face mask unless they are exempt.

Number 10 sources confirmed supermarkets have been told rules on social distancing and shopper numbers, which are not currently law, could be made so if compliance did not improve.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has said enforcing the wearing of face masks in stores is the responsibility of the police and should not be up to shop workers, who have faced a rise in violence and abuse as a result.

Face masks

Prof Whitty has doubled down on insisting people wear face masks indoors.

They are not currently mandatory in offices, but could become so.

The government could also make face masks compulsory in crowded outside spaces.

Face masks are also not compulsory outdoors and Prof Whitty said the risks were much lower than indoors but added problems could occur if people gathered in groups.

Several scientists studying the virus have backed this up, saying wearing masks outdoors is not necessary and the risk of catching COVID from a jogger running past is extremely low.

But, if you were standing in a queue or huddling around a market stall they said wearing a mask was recommended.

Prof Whitty also said when wearing a mask, “do it properly over the nose and mouth, and not just as a fashion accessory”.

Police fines

Police forces across England appear to be taking different approaches to policing lockdown rules.

Derbyshire Police has been criticised for handing out £200 fines to two women who drove separately to go for a walk at a remote beauty spot about five miles from their homes.

The force has since said it would review all fixed penalty notices issued during the lockdown.

North Wales Police said it was frustrated at having to deal with people breaching coronavirus rules as officers continued to catch people travelling from England and other parts of Wales.

Devon and Cornwall Police warned compliance with the rules had dropped as people were getting “fed up”.

Deputy Chief Constable Paul Netherton said it was harder to get people to comply with the rules now compared with the two previous lockdowns.

Mr Hancock backed tougher enforcement of the rules but did not say if fines would increase.

Currently, those who break the rules in England can be fined £200 for the first offence, which doubles for each subsequent breach up to £6,400.

Labour’s ideas

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has called for nurseries to close and said it was “extraordinary” there were fewer restrictions than March.

He gave the example of house viewings being allowed now but not during the first lockdown.

Sir Keir also called for scientists to say what else could be done to prevent transmission.

Wales

First Minister Mark Drakeford has said Wales’s lockdown restrictions will be further strengthened in supermarkets, workplaces, schools and colleges.

He said the Welsh government was in talks with supermarkets about social distancing as there was a concern about a lack of “visible protections” such as one-way systems, limiting shoppers, social distancing and sanitiser stations.

Police are now stopping vehicles to ensure journeys are essential and people flouting the rules are being fined.

In Wales, people who break the rules can be fined £60 for a first offence then £120 for each subsequent offence.

Scotland

Police Scotland Chief Constable Iain Livingstone said there would be “increased patrols” across the country.

Officers will continue to act against anyone making “wilful breaches” of the law, he added.

Mainland Scotland and Skye returned to lockdown at the beginning of January, with a legally enforceable stay-at-home order.

People are only permitted to leave their home for an “essential purpose” such as essential shopping, exercise, caring for someone, or being part of an extended household.

Anybody 16 or over can be fined £60 for not complying, which doubles every time up to £960.

Northern Ireland

A six-week lockdown, similar to England’s, started on Boxing Day in Northern Ireland and the rules became legally enforceable on 8 January.

Police are more visible and have more powers, including being able to direct people to return home and remove a person from somewhere that is not usually their home.

People who do not comply can be fined £60, which doubles every time up to £960.

Tougher restrictions elsewhere

Other countries have introduced considerably tougher restrictions than the UK.

Many have had overnight curfews imposed, including France, Spain, Greece and Italy in Europe, and South Africa, South Korea and Sri Lanka elsewhere in the world.

People in France have needed permission forms to leave home for three essential reasons. Police can stop people and if they do not have the correct form they risk a fine of £120, rising to £3,400 if they are caught three times in a month.

At the beginning of the pandemic, people over the age of 65 in Serbia were only allowed to leave their homes to shop at allocated supermarkets in the early hours of the morning.

In the Australian state of Victoria, borders were shut with checkpoints put in place, and 3,000 people in nine Melbourne tower blocks were not allowed to leave their homes for any reason for five days.

Different parts of China have had a variety of measures since the beginning of the year, including mandatory screening to enter residential areas and only one family member allowed to leave to go to the supermarket every five days.

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