Outdoor Exercise Could Be Banned In Stricter Coronavirus Lockdown, Says Matt Hancock

Health secretary says minority flouting rules could see restrictions tightened. Labour leader Keir Starmer would back move.

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Outdoor exercise could be banned in a stricter coronavirus lockdown if people continue to flout social distancing rules, the government has said.

Health secretary Matt Hancock warned ministers could impose even tighter rules on social distancing after reports showed people flocking to parks and beauty spots.

It comes as the public were warned to resist going outside in the warm weather and that sunbathing was against rules “backed up by law”.

Labour’s new leader Keir Starmer said he would back a new crackdown if the government thought it was necessary to curb the spread of the potentially fatal disease.

Hancock told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “I think this example of exercise is a really important one, because we’ve said because of the positive benefits to your physical and your mental health that it’s OK to exercise on your own or with members of your own household.

“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.

“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.”

As it stands, the public have been told they can only leave the house for food, work (where it is not possible to work from home), a medical need, and to exercise once a day.

Hancock added: “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.”

Starmer has said Labour will back the tighter restrictions.

He also vowed to not seek to score party political points – nor demand the impossible – during the crisis, and said he would engage constructively with the Conservatives.

Asked if he would support further restrictions on exercise if people flout the rules, Starmer 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.”

In a separate development, Hancock said the government was on track to meet its “goal” of ventilator capacity for 18,000 patients - which is lower than the 30,000 originally thought.

He conceded, however, that they may not be in place by the time the virus peaked, which could be “within a week to ten days”.

“We need to make sure we have more ventilators than there are people who need ventilation,” he said.

“At the moment we have between 9,000 and 10,000 ventilators within the NHS right now and we have the 2,000 spare that are critical care beds with ventilator capacity should people need to come into them and we’re ramping that up.

“The answer is that our goal, instead of the 30,000, is that we need 18,000 ventilators over the coming two weeks.”

Asked how many there will be in a week’s time: “There should be another 1,500.”

Asked if the country will be below the capacity it needs in a week’s time when the virus is expected to peak, Hancock said: “No, because thankfully we’ve got the demand down because the vast majority of people are following their social distancing guidelines.”

“If we manage to get this to peak within a week to ten days then the demand will be even lower than the 18,000,” he said.

“But the 18,000 is our current goal because we want to be ready with belt and braces for a worst-case scenario rather than that central scenario.”