By Paul Waugh
Coronavirus has changed everything. Make sense of it all with the Waugh Zone, our evening politics briefing. Sign up now.
Downing Street has contradicted a cabinet minister who suggested the public should try to shop just “once a week” during the coronavirus outbreak.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps told BBC Breakfast that new rules in the government lockdown meant that shoppers ought to restrict their outings to a weekly trip.
But No.10 said that was not the official guidance and that the advice was that the public should instead travel out to buy essentials like food and medicine “as infrequently as possible”.
The latest confusion over the new rules in place followed criticism that Shapps had failed to grasp that for some families or individuals a weekly shop was impractical.
Some shoppers claim they need trips every few days because stores are short of some goods and are restricting the number of items that can be bought in one go.
Shapps had admitted there had been “teething problems” with lockdown policies but said guidelines should be followed.
“People know the rules that have been set – try and shop just once a week. Just do the essentials, not everything else.”
But new laws installed last week set no weekly limit on the number of times shoppers can go out for ‘essential items.
Asked directly if Shapps’ once-a-week suggestion was right, the prime minister’s official spokesman said: “The guidance doesn’t specify that, no. The guidance sets out shopping should be as infrequent as possible.
“For some people, I’m sure their judgement will be that that will be once a week, but it’s not what the guidance specifies.
“What the guidance says is you should be shopping for basic necessities, for example food and medicine, which must be as infrequent as possible.”
Put to him that there were mixed messages from ministers and Downing Street, the spokesperson replied: “There’s a single government message, it’s in the guidance we published last week.”
According to the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations 2020, police officers can issue £30 fixed penalty notices to anyone who breaches the rules. The fine must be paid in 14 days, and can be raised to £120 for a second offence and £960 for a third.
Aldi, Morrisons and Waitrose announced on Tuesday they were easing restrictions on some of their products which were imposed in the wake of stockpiling earlier this month.
But Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Co-op are not changing their policies on restrictions at the moment.
Shapps appeared to be on safer ground when he also said on Tuesday that people should take exercise close to their home and not drive to beauty spots to do so.
“The simple thing is, if at all possible, please take exercise close to your home.
“I’ve got dogs and, rather than put them in the car and drive somewhere with them, it’s about stepping out of the house and walking them around the block, or whatever it requires.”
But No.10 also appeared to distance itself from his suggestion that the current rules to allow some non-essential workplace activity was needed to stop the economy from grinding to a halt.
“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,” he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.
“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.”
But the PM’s spokesman said: “The basis on which we have taken measures on social distancing is medical advice. As it stands, the public is following our advice on social distancing but it is absolutely crucial it continues to do so.”