Guardian News and Media/London
The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, has warned that the UK is at a “tipping point” nationally, while new coronavirus restrictions on London could be introduced in the coming days.
“This country faces a tipping point,” he said. “We face a choice. If everybody follows the rules – and we’ll be increasingly stringent on the people who are not following the rules – then we can avoid further national lockdowns.
“But we of course have to be prepared to take action if that it what is necessary. I don’t rule it out; I don’t want to see it.”
Britain reported 3,899 new Covid-19 cases yesterday, compared to 4,422 on Saturday, the government reported on its website.
The government has announced fines of up to £10,000 for people who fail to comply with a request to self-isolate, and a £500 lump sum for low-paid workers who need to stay at home.
Asked whether he would call the police on a neighbour who was breaking the rules, Hancock said simply “yes”.
Labour had repeatedly warned that low-paid workers would struggle to comply with the restrictions without more financial help.
The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, warned on Friday that it was “increasingly likely” the capital would face tougher rules.
These could include ordering hospitality venues to close early and further limiting interactions between households.
Hancock said: “The first line of defence is people’s behaviour. But then, after that, local lockdowns are necessary, and I’ve brought in local action right across different parts of the country where cases are rising.”
“I’ve had discussions this week with the mayor of London and the teams are meeting to discuss further what might be needed,” he added.
City Hall believed London was up to a fortnight behind northern towns and cities that have experienced a resurgence in the virus, but new analysis of Sage data on Friday suggested it may be just days behind.
Asked later on Times Radio whether Londoners could be asked to work from home as soon as this week, Hancock said: “I wouldn’t rule it out.”
That would mark a significant volte-face from a government that has been encouraging office workers to return to their desks.
There are also concerns that problems with the track-and-trace system may be leading to an underestimation of the scale of the problem.
The Cabinet Office Minister, Michael Gove, held discussions with the Scottish and Welsh first ministers on Saturday about potential next steps, after both complained they were not being consulted.
Boris Johnson has repeatedly insisted he wants to avoid a nationwide lockdown, calling it the “nuclear” option, and ministers had hoped local restrictions, which already cover more than 10mn people in the north-west, north-east and Midlands, might be enough.
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