A cabinet minister has hinted that police could soon be asked to enforce social distancing measures as people continue to mix at beaches and parks.
Communities secretary Robert Jenrick warned the public coronavirus “isn’t a game” and the government will be forced to consider “other options” if people disregard advice.
Emergency legislation to tackle the virus will include handling police special powers to detain people who refuse to self-isolate, but the government has so far resisted saying it would take such action.
Boris Johnson ordered pubs and restaurants to close this week and asked the public to stay at home and away from others.
The vulnerable – including people aged over 70, pregnant women and those with existing health conditions – should strictly self-isolate for three months, the prime minister also said, as he underlined the measures were vital in order to save lives from the potentially-fatal disease.
But despite this, reports have emerged of crowds flocking to beaches and families mixing closely at parks.
Speaking to Sky News, Jenrick said children should not be going to play dates and that while it was OK for people to go outdoors and exercise, they should be avoiding crowds and keeping their distance.
“Lots of people sat out together in parks or on beaches. That isn’t sensible. We strongly discourage that,” he said.
He added that if people continued to ignore advice, the government would take further action, stating: “We want to live in a free society where we can continue to go about activities whilst following the medical advice. But this isn’t a game, it is very serious.
“People need to follow that advice. If people don’t follow that advice then clearly we’ll have to consider other options, but none of us want to go down that route.”
GPs and have identified 1.5 million people who are particularly vulnerable to people. Those people will receive a letter from government imploring them to follow the advice for 12 weeks.
He also stressed that these people would be guaranteed food supplies.
London mayor Sadiq Khan, meanwhile, urged people in the city to follow the advice and stay at home.
“Please, please, please” stop social mixing or “more people will die”
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) March 22, 2020
The city is ahead of other parts of the country in the spread of the virus, with a majority of cases emerging there.
The UK death toll on Saturday hit 233, with the official number of cases standing at 5,018.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also spoke to Sky News urging people to follow health advice.
He said: “We are all the front line now and I do urge people to listen, listen, listen to the advice you’re given.
“Don’t closely associate with people, don’t go places where there’s going to be big crowds, make sure you’re not part of a big crowd.”