Public warned of outdoor exercise ban after rules flouted but 'no imminent' lockdown change, says Health Secretary

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Sejal Karia

If people do not follow coronavirus lockdown restrictions, outdoor exercise could be banned the Health Secretary has warned, but added such a change is not imminent.

The warning from Matt Hancock came after people were pictured sunbathing over the weekend, something he said was not allowed.

Speaking during the Government's daily Covid-19 update, Mr Hancock said staying at home helps to reduce the spread of the respiratory disease and save lives.

But he said the government is not currently looking at tightening the rules on exercising outdoors

It came as the UK death toll rose sharply by 621 to reach 4,934.

Sunday was the hottest day of the year so far, with the mercury hitting 19.8C (67.6F) in Heathrow and Kew Gardens at 1pm.

  • Health Secretary Matt Hancock said there will be no changes to coronavirus rules "imminently", ITV News Political Reporter Shehab Khan explains

Earlier on Sunday, Mr Hancock told ITV News: "Going out and sunbathing, I can totally understand why people want to do that in this sunny weather, but going out from your home helps spread the disease and instead you should stay home, help protect lives and the NHS, and that way we can come through this faster."

During the lockdown, the UK public has been told to stay at home unless absolutely necessary, although trips to the shops for food and a daily stint of exercise are allowed.

However, Mr Hancock warned that if people do not heed the current rules, then the Government may restrict people's freedom to exercise outdoors.

Giving the Government's daily update, the West Suffolk MP urged the “small minority” of people who are breaking social distancing rules to change their behaviour, saying: “The more people follow the rules then the faster we will all be through this.”

Mr Hancock - who said he understood how difficult a time the country was having because he has lost two people he was “fond of” - added that the Government was “not planning any changes” imminently to the rules on exercising.

It came ahead of a rare address from the Queen to the nation, in which she urged the country to prove that this generation is “as strong as any”.

In a televised message broadcast on Sunday evening, the head of state said she recognised the pain felt by many families living through this “time of disruption”.

She personally thanked frontline NHS staff, care workers and others carrying out essential roles for their efforts, in what was a deeply personal message reflecting her experience in other difficult times.

Speaking during the daily press conference on Sunday afternoon, as the country prepares to enter its third week in lockdown, Mr Hancock warned people not to flout rules around social distancing and said tougher restrictions could follow.

He added: “Following these rules is mission-critical if we’re to protect the NHS, slow the spread and give the NHS time to expand capacity and so save lives.

“The more people follow the rules then the faster we will all be through this.

“So I say this to the small minority of people who are breaking the rules or pushing the boundaries: you’re risking your own life and the lives of others and you’re making it harder for us all.”

Matt Hancock has not said how long the public can expect the lockdown to last. Credit: PA

Mr Hancock said the Government is not currently looking at tightening the rules on exercising outdoors, after images of crowded parks over the weekend sparked public outrage.

“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.

The Health Secretary added it was unclear when the rules could be changed because of ongoing questions around whether those who have had the illness have developed sufficient immunity.

He said: “Even for those of us who have had it where the science predicts it’s likely that our immunity is higher and our ability to transmit the virus is lower.

“We are not yet confident enough how high the immunity is and how much lower the likelihood of those of us who have had the disease transmitting it is, to be able change the rules.

“The rules are the same for everyone and will be until the science can give us confidence that we can say something different to those who have been through it.”

There are signs the measures are working. Credit: PA

Speaking at the press conference, Dr Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer for England, 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.”

Mr Hancock, who returned from self-isolation on Friday after being struck ill with Covid-19, said he also offered his “profound sympathies” to the families and friends of those who have died.

He added: “I’ve lost two people that I was fond of so I understand what a difficult time this is for the country.”

Matt Hancock admitted hitting his testing target will be difficult. Credit: PA

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