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A stricter coronavirus lockdown is not “imminent”, health secretary Matt Hancock has said, despite earlier threatening to ban outdoor exercise.
Speaking at a press conference in Downing Street, Hancock rowed back on warnings the government may ramp up restrictions on Brits’ freedoms as the UK battles to curb the spread of the disease.
Earlier on BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show, Hancock was asked about a clampdown on exercise after images of crowded parks over the weekend sparked public outrage.
He said if people continued to ignore official guidance, ministers “will have to take action”.
But Hancock has now said the government is not yet planning to tighten the rules.
“What we are doing is being absolutely clear that the current rules must be followed,” he said.
He said the rules are designed to include exercise to protect people’s physical and mental wellbeing.
It comes as the Department of Health and Social Care confirmed a further 621 people in the UK have died after testing positive for coronavirus, bringing the total to 4,934.
Dr Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer, said: “It is not just what you are doing but how you are doing it.
“If you are sitting on a park bench, people tend to accumulate – it is very difficult to prevent that.
“Having rules where we are getting all of the benefits and minimising the risks and harms is an important approach to maintain.
“We have set those rules, we are enforcing against those rules and we will reiterate those rules, because that is the best way to be able to bend the curve down and stop the spread of the virus.”
When asked if people are safe to visit family if they have been following the social distancing guidelines correctly, Hancock said “uncertainty” over how the disease is spread means they should not.
He added: “This virus can spread in all sorts of different ways, both from directly respiratory and also through objects and through touching objects that others then touch – the uncertainty over who has it, especially before they have symptoms, means that the only effective way of bending the curve down is to reduce that social contact.
“That’s why we came to the conclusions we did, difficult conclusions, that we have to have such extraordinary social distancing policies in place and why we took the decision more than a week ago now to flip the basis of those rules from saying you can’t do certain things to saying you must stay at home unless you’re doing one of a small number of things.”
He added that the evidence shows “a very high proportion of the public” understand the government rules and are following them, but he added: “We need everybody to be following those rules.”