Health Secretary Matt Hancock has criticised sunbathers for breaking lockdown rules and warned the government will ban exercise if people continue to ignore the advice to stay home.
Following the emergence of photographs and footage of people enjoying the sunshine during the warmest weekend of the last six months, Mr Hancock insisted sunbathing is not allowed.
His message to the British public on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme was clear: If you want the coronavirus lockdown to end, follow the rules.
He said: “The vast majority of people are following the public health advice, which is absolutely critical, and staying at home.
“But there are a small minority of people who are still not doing that – it’s quite unbelievable frankly to see that there are some people who are not following the advice.”
Asked whether sunbathing in public spaces was against the law, he said: “Sunbathing is against the rules that have been set out for important public health reasons.”
He warned those who are flouting the guidance: “You are putting others’ lives at risk and you are putting yourself in harm’s way.”
The minister later said he didn’t want to further restrict people’s freedom, but would take action if the rules continued to be flouted.
He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “We’ve said it’s OK to go for exercise because both the physical and mental health benefits of getting some exercise are really important.
“I don’t want to have to take away exercise as a reason to leave home… if too many people are not following the rules.”
He added: “If you don’t want us to take the next step and ban exercise… then the message is very clear… you have to follow the rules.”
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Asked whether she agreed with Mr Hancock, Labour’s newly-elected deputy leader Angela Rayner told Sky’s Sophy Ridge: “It’s alright for people who have got big houses and huge back gardens to say that.
“But actually if you’re stuck in inadequate accommodation, you’ve got no back garden, you’ve got nowhere to go and you’re all on top of each other, quite literally, then I think people should do social distancing and should keep their distance but also be reasonable and proportionate about that.”
She also criticised Mr Hancock for going out to work a week after contracting COVID-19.
Ms Rayner, who herself has been self-isolating with coronavirus symptoms, said she was in bed for six days and her symptoms were “very debilitating”.
She said: “I’m disappointed that Matt Hancock, after seven days of having the virus, went out when the World Health Organisation has said you should self-isolate for 14 days.
“I think it’s right that we do that because I cannot stress enough the severity of the symptoms that I have suffered, as you can tell from how breathless I am still now, and I’m day nine, day 10.
“I think the government really need to give that clarity and continue to support people doing the right thing.”
Mr Hancock admitted there is a “debate” in the government about how and when to wind down the lockdown measures.
But he denied reports of a personal row with Chancellor Rishi Sunak on the issue, telling Sophy Ridge “we’re working very closely together” and everyone wants to “get out of this as fast as possible”.
Yesterday, Professor Neil Ferguson – of Imperial College London, which is advising the government on its coronavirus response – said the UK’s epidemic was expected to plateau in the next week to 10 days, but people’s behaviour was critical to determining what happens next.
Today, he said there were “some signs” the lockdown is helping to slow the spread of the virus, but could not predict when the restrictions would be lifted.
“There is no point, having gone through this effort, in releasing a lockdown at a point where case numbers are still high and will resurge even faster than we have seen before,” he told Andrew Marr.
“We want case numbers to get to a low point where we can start substituting other measures for the most intrusive and economically costly aspects of the current lockdown. Almost certainly those additional measures will involve massively ramped-up testing, going back to trying to identify contacts of cases and stopping chains of transmission.
“That can only feasibly be done when we have many few cases per day than we have at the moment.”
Asked about the potential final death toll, Prof Ferguson said: “It is very difficult to make predictions at the moment… we think it could be anywhere between 7,000 or so up to a little over 20,000.”
The Department of Health and Social Care said on Saturday that 708 more people died in hospital after testing positive for coronavirus, bringing the total deaths in the UK to 4,313.
Clear skies and temperatures of upwards of 18C (64.4F) have been forecast for today, amid pleas from ministers, NHS chiefs and academics for people to resist the temptation to head out to enjoy the sunshine.
Chief nursing officer for NHS England, Ruth May, begged people to stay at home, asking them to remember the front line NHS workers who have lost their lives to the virus while battling to save others from the disease.