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British Health Secretary says people ignoring social-distancing advice are ‘selfish’

Over the weekend, photos emerged showing crowds of people visiting open spaces across many parts of the UK and Ireland.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock
Health Secretary Matt Hancock
Image: PA Images

PEOPLE WHO ARE ignoring social-distancing advice to stay two metres apart are “very selfish”, the British Health Secretary has said as he indicated further measures could be brought in to tackle Covid-19.

In a sign that the UK could be moving towards greater lockdown, Matt Hancock said the government was willing to take “more action” if needed to stop coronavirus from spreading.

Over the weekend, photos emerged showing crowds of people visiting open spaces across many parts of the UK.

The government has said it is safe to exercise as long as people keep at least two metres away from other people.

But Labour urged ministers to act now by moving to “enforced social distancing”.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4, Hancock said he did not know why some people were ignoring the government’s advice. 

“It’s very selfish,” he said. “The NHS is doing everything it can and preparing for the spread of this virus.

“If people go within two metres of others who they don’t live with then they’re helping to spread the virus – and the consequences of that costs lives and it means that, for everyone, this will go on for longer.”

Similar concerns have been raised in Ireland. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has expressed concern about reports of large numbers of people in public spaces over the weekend, but downplayed the idea of a complete lockdown in the country.

Hancock said ministers were prepared to take stricter measures to clamp down on the spread of the virus if necessary.

Asked by the BBC whether he would move to telling people not to go out at all rather than simply advise against it, he said: “Yes, and on Saturday I signed the order to give the police the power to be able to shut bars, restaurants and pubs if they are still open.

“This isn’t the sort of thing I ever wanted to do but it is the sort of thing as a nation we have to be prepared to see to stop this virus.

“These are unpleasant and very difficult times.”

The are over 5,600 Covid-19 cases in the UK and more than 300 deaths have been confirmed.

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Asked whether the Cabinet would be considering a firmer lockdown when it meets on today, Hancock said: “Nothing is off the table. Of course we are looking at what other European countries are doing.”

Downing Street said ministers will be looking at data on how much social interaction is still taking place and “if that information shows they haven’t stopped then we will need to take further measures”.

Asked whether extra controls could be imposed as soon as today, the spokesman said: “We won’t hesitate to take any further measures if they are required.”

Downing Street also said Prime Minister Boris Johnson is “actively considering further steps” to help self-employed workers through the crisis.

Widespread non-compliance 

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “After another weekend of apparent public confusion and widespread non-compliance with ‘social distancing’, of grave scientific warnings and brave medical professionals talking of being sent to work like ‘lambs to the slaughter’ with inadequate protective equipment, something has to change.

“Other countries have taken further far-reaching social distancing measures. We now call on the government to move to enforced social distancing and greater social protection as a matter of urgency.”

In Walsall, a 36-year-old nurse and mother-of-three is on a ventilator in intensive care after contracting coronavirus.

Areema Nasreen is in a critical condition at Walsall Manor Hospital in the West Midlands where she works.

Elsewhere, a primary school head teacher in Cumbria died after she became unwell with “symptoms associated with the coronavirus”.

Wendy Jacobs, who taught at Roose Primary School in Barrow-in-Furness, died yesterday, school governor Fred Chatfield said in a letter to parents, saying her death was a “huge loss”.

Jacobs went into self-isolation after she “displayed symptoms associated with the coronavirus and became unwell”, the school said on 13 March.

It has not been confirmed whether she was diagnosed.

Italy 

There are growing fears that Britain is on a similar trajectory to Italy – scene of the world’s worst outbreak – where the death toll passed 5,000 over the weekend.

The Italian government was one of a number of European countries to announce new or extended restrictions – with Germany banning public gatherings of more than two people not from the same household.

Meanwhile, respiratory doctors and nurses at Belfast Trust launched a video on Twitter saying people should stay at home to save lives.

One medic there said she has been a doctor for 35 years, adding: “I’m Susie, we are facing our greatest challenge and we are frightened … please stay at home.”

Labour MP Rosena Allin-Khan, who also works as an A&E doctor at St George’s Hospital in south London, bitterly attacked the British government’s approach.

She said her latest shift had been a “deeply, deeply eye-opening” experience with previously fit and healthy people in their 30s and 40s “attached to machines, fighting for their lives”.

“The Prime Minister has been blasé about this from the start, waiting for others to make decisions so he doesn’t have to. It is costing lives,” she said.

“Enough is enough. The NHS cannot cope and it won’t be long before doctors have to choose between who lives and who dies.”

Meanwhile, the UK government has announced it will put a six-month time limit on its emergency powers designed to tackle the spread of coronavirus.

One of the sons of outgoing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is also self-isolating, the PA news agency understands.

Seb Corbyn, who works for shadow chancellor John McDonnell, has not been in direct contact with his father or his boss recently, it is understood.

With reporting by Órla Ryan

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