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Supermarkets told to limit customers over fears lockdown rules being broken

Shoppers could once again be faced with long queues outside supermarkets as part of a wider Government crackdown on compliance with the latest lockdown measures.

Ministers have reportedly agreed to toughen enforcement of the rules amid fears poor compliance could mean the nationwide restrictions fail to bring the soaring coronavirus infection rates under control.

The crackdown will focus on the retail sector and the rules allowing people to leave their homes for daily exercise, according to The Times. A Government source told the newspaper: ‘We need to make sure supermarkets in particular are following the rules given this is one of the few places where you still see people from different households in the same indoor space.’

The move comes amid concerns the third national lockdown is not being adhered to as closely as the first one in spring last year, the Daily Mail reports.

A Whitehall source said: ‘There is a feeling that people have just gone back to doing whatever they want, so local authorities will work with supermarkets and other places that are open to make sure they are still Covid-secure.’

That could see a return to limits being placed on the number of people let into stores at one time, one-way systems brought back and tighter enforcement on mask wearing.

Speaking this morning, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi urged the public to stick to the rules, telling Sky News: ‘We are concerned that, for example, in supermarkets, we need to make sure people actually wear masks and follow the one-way system rule, and when they are at capacity to operate safely for people to wait outside supermarkets.

‘We don’t want to go any tougher because this is a pretty tough lockdown, but what we need is people to behave as if they’ve got the virus so we can bring this virus under control whilst we vaccinate.’

There were 54,940 new cases of coronavirus in the UK yesterday and 563 further deaths.

Daily case rates have remained above 50,000 since December 29, while fatalities totalled more than 1,000 for four consecutive days last week.

Asked about the prospect of sterner measures over the weekend, Matt Hancock told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show: ‘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.’

The health secretary said the ‘majority are following the rules’ but warned that even a single slip-up could cost lives.

He told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday: ‘Every flexibility can be fatal… this virus is so contagious it passes on and as we’ve seen it’s deadly.’

Some experts have branded the current lockdown measures not strict enough, in the face of the more transmissible variant which has spread rapidly in many parts of the country – a position the leader of the Labour Party suggested he endorsed.

Sir Keir Starmer told Marr that the current lockdown rules ‘may not be tough enough’.

Professor Peter Horby, chairman of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said the Kent variant has made the situation ‘more risky’ and that if the infection rate does not slow down then ‘we’re going to have to be even stricter’.

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