Boris Johnson held a top-secret cabinet meeting to discuss an even stricter lockdown with restrictions on exercise, mandatory outdoor wearing of masks and no more social bubbles, all of which floated by ministers, sources claim.
The Cabinet Office refused to deny that the draconian new laws had come into effect – instead referring to Matt Hancock's vague testimony today.
The Health Secretary refused to speculate when asked directly whether stricter measures – including curfews and kindergarten closings – could be put in place, saying instead the British should "follow the rules we have".
A Whitehall source told MailOnline that the measures discussed today even included a ban on people leaving their homes more than once a week.
Under current rules, Brits can train with someone else or with their household or support bubble – but not outside their region.
But a government source said the rule "is used as an excuse for people to have coffee with their friends in the park," and could be tightened, reports The Daily Telegraph.
They said the "rule is for exercise, for people's mental health, especially the elderly who don't want to run to see anyone," but many use their "imaginations" to do what they want .
Officials are also expected to encourage businesses and workplaces to improve their Covid social distancing measures.
Supermarkets will be a focal point of the recent government push, with many feared that lax enforcement of the rules poses risk to shoppers.
The health minister refused to speculate when asked directly whether measures such as curfews, time limits outside the home and the introduction of masks outdoors could be put in place.
Professor Peter Horby, chairman of the virus advisory group NERVTAG, said: "If there is any indication that this is not the case, unfortunately we have to be stricter."
A senior government scientific adviser said today it will become clear whether the current lockdown would reduce the spread of coronavirus cases – with deaths over 80,000 – within 14 days.
Professor Peter Horby, chair of the Advisory Group on New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats (NERVTAG) said: "Unfortunately, if there is any indication that this is not the case, we need to be even stricter."
The UK today announced another 573 coronavirus deaths, the highest Sunday in seven months.
Mr Hancock appeared on the BBC's Andrew Marr program this morning asking about a range of actions that could be taken.
Mr. Marr asked, “Are you considering things like curfews, closing kindergartens, quitting some of those support bladders, returning to just an hour of outdoor exercise, and asking people to wear masks in crowded outdoor areas? Are these the things to consider if you can't get this under control very quickly? & # 39;
But Mr. Hancock replied, “Well, I don't want to speculate because the main message is not whether the government will continue to strengthen the rules. The most important thing is that people stay home and follow the rules that we have. & # 39;
Professor Horby told the same program that the new variant discovered in Kent, which appears to be far more transmissible than older strains of Covid, made the situation "riskier".
When asked what it means to be “even stricter” in practice, he said, “I think the principles haven't changed. There is no evidence to suggest that this virus is transmitted any other way. It's just that when people have it, they have more virus, so any contact is riskier.
So the same principles apply. The point is to reduce social contact, and if there is inevitable social contact, be as strict as possible with distance and face masks, hand hygiene and ventilation, etc. & # 39;
Mr Marr asked: So when I think back to March and spring I can remember that for example you could only go out for an hour, for example for any kind of exercise, and there were much stricter rules for meeting other people . Are these the things we might see if we don't get it under control now? & # 39;
To which he said: “Yes, that's right. You know, we have seen in the past that very strict measures work and if the current measures are not strict enough, it is clear what we have to do. & # 39;
Meanwhile, union leader Sir Keir Starmer warned that if they don't prevent spikes in Covid cases, lockdown rules may need to be tightened – as he called for kindergartens to close immediately.
He attacked "mixed messages" from ministers about the lockdown restrictions when he asked Boris Johnson to hold daily press conferences until the lockdown is lifted.
The UK Covid death toll topped 80,000 after a further 1,035 deaths yesterday, adding to fears the total will exceed 100,000 by the end of the month.
Sir Keir appeared on the BBC's Andrew Marr program and said, “They are tough and necessary. You can't be tough enough.
“In a sense, I think the most important thing is that people get this message about staying at home.
“And it's up to the government to get that message out all the time. I'm afraid we've had mixed messages over the past nine months as to why we have a problem.
"I would love to see the Prime Minister hold a press conference out there every day to make sure the message gets through absolutely."
The Labor leader attacked "mixed messages" from ministers about lockdown restrictions when he asked Boris Johnson to hold daily press conferences until lockdown is lifted
Sir Keir Starmer said kindergartens "should probably close" and told the BBC, "I think there is a reason to look at kindergartens, we're talking to the scientists about it."
Priti Patel defended police today as they began strict application of Covid rules, which include fines of £ 200 and less tolerance for rule violations.
The Home Secretary warned officials "will not hesitate" to take action as the rising number of new Covid-19 cases proved the need for "strong enforcement" in cases where people were clearly breaking the rules .
Mr Hancock told Sky & # 39; s Ridge on Sunday that more people are obeying the rules than when there was lockdown in November, but added, “I will definitely be helping the police. The challenge here is that any flex can be deadly.
& # 39; You could look at the rules and think & # 39; & # 39; Well it doesn't matter so much whether I do this or that & # 39; & # 39; but these rules are not there as limits to be moved, they are the limit of what people should do. & # 39;
When asked about the prospect of tighter restrictions later at Marr, he added: “I don't want to speculate because the main message is not whether the government will continue to strengthen the rules.
“The most important thing is that people stay home and follow the rules that we have.
"And that's the most important thing we can do together as a society in terms of the extent of the case impact."
Mr. Hancock, who videolinked the interview from home, added, “It's hard, it's not easy. But if there is something you can do from home and don't have to go outside of your home, this is what you should do.
"Not only must people obey the letter of the rules, but they must also follow the Spirit and play their part."
Sir Keir Starmer said kindergartens "should probably close". Elementary and secondary schools were closed during the lockdown, but preschools remain open to younger children.
He told the BBC: “I think there is a reason to go to kindergartens. We talk to the scientists about it.
"I think people are surprised that elementary schools were closed but kindergartens weren't."
He added, "I think they should probably be closed, I want to talk to the scientists about it."
He said adhering to the goals of the vaccination program is the best way to get schools back open.
Pictured: People line up for pancakes in Hampstead, north London today, despite London Mayor Sadiq Khan declaring a state of emergency in the capital due to a rapid rise in cases
But he said classroom reopening needn't be made conditional on teachers being vaccinated.
"We'd have to look at all of the criteria, but the most important thing is the vaccination program," he said.
"It is very difficult to see how we can meaningfully lift restrictions until the vaccination program, at least the first part of it, is successfully implemented."
Urged when asked whether reopening depends on teachers being vaccinated, he added, “No, I don't know that it necessarily does, although it would be a good thing if it could happen.
“That argument that there are sectors where there is a very strong argument in favor of vaccination for obvious reasons, and I understand that, and we're going to have that to do justice to that, quite frankly.
"But for now we need to focus on those who are most likely to go to the hospital and tragically die."
(tagsToTranslate) Dailymail (t) Nachrichten (t) Keir Starmer (t) Coronavirus Lockdowns (t) Boris Johnson (t) Matt Hancock