Transport secretary Grant Shapps has said stopping non-essential workers using public transport could cause “more harm than the virus itself”.
The government has urged people to work from home where possible in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
But it has stopped short of ordering people not to travel even if they are not a key worker such as a nurse or food chain employee.
Shapps told Good Morning Britain on Tuesday morning the government wanted to “be in a position where when this lifts we are able to re-start the economy”.
“There are risks in every direction. This is one of those crises where there are no really great options,” he said.
“But one of the things we need to be careful not to do is completely crash our economy to the point where it is impossible or very difficult to pick up again afterwards.
“So we have been straightforward and said: ‘If you’re a key worker go out, but if you can’t do your job from home then it is acceptable to go out and do that work.’
“Otherwise, we will be in a position where we can’t restart the economy and millions of people will be forced into a poverty situation that would do more harm than the virus itself. That’s really the balance.”
Labour leadership candidate Rebecca Long-Bailey has demanded the government go further and “make sure those workers are at home if they are not providing an essential function”.
“The government’s main priority should be ensuring that people are able to stay in their homes and that they are financially protected enough to do that,” she told Sky News on Sunday.
Boris Johnson will chair a meeting of his cabinet by videolink as he continues to self-isolate in Downing Street after testing positive for coronavirus, amid growing pressure to get more protective equipment to health workers.
It comes as 1,408 people are confirmed to have died in UK hospitals after testing positive for Covid-19, as of 5pm on Sunday.
Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, yesterday said the coronavirus lockdown measures put in place by the government were “making a difference”.