Boris Johnson was facing questions about his own coronavirus lockdown behaviour after details emerged of him enjoying a prime-ministerial bike ride on Sunday, seven miles from Downing Street.
Mr Johnson on Monday said the government was prepared to tighten lockdown rules, but Downing Street had to fend off inquiries over whether he was sticking to England’s existing rules with a weekend ride at the Olympic Park, in east London.
Government advice allows exercise outside, but says people should not travel outside their local area. Number 10 declined to say whether Mr Johnson had cycled to the park or had been driven there.
A Downing Street spokesman said Mr Johnson had complied with Covid-19 guidelines. But Labour MP Andy Slaughter said: “Once again it is ‘do as I say, not as I do’ from the prime minister.”
The London Evening Standard reported that a “source” told the newspaper Mr Johnson had noted during his ride “how busy the park was” and that at a ministerial meeting on Sunday night he was “concerned about if people were following the rules”.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said at a Downing Street press conference: “It is OK . . . if you went for a long walk and ended up seven miles from home, that is OK, but you should stay local.” He added: “It is OK to go for a long walk or a cycle ride or to exercise but stay local.”
Downing Street put England on notice on Monday that it is ready to tighten coronavirus restrictions further if public adherence to the existing lockdown measures did not improve.
Earlier on Monday, during a visit to a coronavirus vaccination centre in Bristol, Mr Johnson said he believed that the majority of the public were sticking to the rules but added: “If we feel that things are not being properly observed then we may have to do more.”
A Number 10 spokesman refused to rule out measures such as enforcing face coverings outdoors, introducing a curfew and closing nurseries.
The police are responsible for the enforcement of rules regarding face coverings, but grocer Wm Morrison on Monday announced that its security guards would stop people from entering its stores unless they were wearing masks or could show they were medically exempt.
Mr Hancock applauded the supermarket group for its decision. “That’s the right approach,” he said.
Mr Hancock also warned that rules allowing people to exercise outdoors with one other person from another household were being abused by big groups. “We do not rule out taking further action if needed,” he said.
And while some police forces have been criticised for heavy-handed enforcement, Mr Hancock said he was “delighted” they had been “stepping up”.
However, he ruled out scrapping support bubbles, which allow single adults living alone to form a bubble with one other household.
Dozens of Conservative MPs messaged the party’s official WhatsApp group on Monday to express concerns about the impact it would have. But Mr Hancock announced on Monday evening: “The bubbles will stay.”
Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour party, said there was an “urgent” need for the government to re-examine the current measures within 24 hours.
The new nationwide lockdown rules in England
The main restriction is a firm stay-at-home message
People are only allowed to leave their home to go to work if they cannot reasonably do so from home, to shop for essential food, medicines and other necessities and to exercise with their household or one other person — once a day and locally
The most clinically vulnerable will be asked to shield
All colleges and primary and secondary schools will be closed until a review at half-term in mid-February. Vulnerable children and children of critical workers will still be able to attend while nursery provision will remain available
University students will have to study from home until at least mid-February
Hospitality and non-essential retail will be closed. Takeaway services will be available but not for the sale of alcohol
Entertainment venues and animal attractions such as zoos will close. Playgrounds can remain open
Places of worship can also stay open but one may attend only with one’s household
Indoor and outdoor sports facilities, including courts, gyms, golf courses, swimming pools and riding arenas, will close. Elite sport including the English Premier League will be able to continue
Overseas travel will be allowed for “essential” business only
Full details are available on the government’s official website.