PEOPLE ignoring social distancing advice to stay two metres apart are ‘very selfish’, the 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 a stricter lockdown, Matt Hancock said the government was willing to take ‘more action’ if needed to stop coronavirus spreading.
Shops except for pharmacies and food retailers could also be ordered to shut under measures being considered by all UK leaders.
It comes as 46 more people died in England alongside four in Scotland, taking the number who have died in British hospitals after testing positive to 335. Those who have died in England range in age from 18 to 105.
Over the weekend, photos emerged showing crowds 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 apart.
Mr Hancock said he did not know why some 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.’
Mr 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.’
It comes as the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said the coronavirus pandemic was ‘accelerating’.
Speaking at a press briefing in Geneva, WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: ‘It took 67 days from the first reported case to reach 100,000 cases, 11 days for the second 100,000 cases, and just four days for the third 100,000 cases.’
In the House of Commons, MPs have started debating a new law to give emergency powers to the government to tackle the coronavirus outbreak.
Downing Street said ministers would be looking at data on how much social interaction was still taking place and ‘if that information shows they haven’t stopped, then we will need to take further measures’.
Asked about testing medical staff for Covid-19, Mr Hancock said he hoped this would take place ‘as soon as possible’.
He said the government had confirmed that all major hospitals had received deliveries of personal protective equipment needed by frontline staff and that a hotline had been set up for NHS workers to ring if there were shortages in their area.
‘I’m working day and night to get this protective equipment to the frontline,’ Mr Hancock said.
‘We have got enough of it. Of course we are going to need more and we are buying it too. But it is about distributing it to the frontline.
‘We have done two things over the weekend. First, we have got a shipment out to all the major hospitals and the second is we now have a helpline so that if you are on the frontline and you can’t get access to the equipment you need, you can phone in so we know where the shortages are.’
Mr Hancock also told the BBC that 12,000 ventilators were now available after last week’s appeal by the PM, up from 5,000 that the NHS had access to previously.
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 coronavirus’.
Wendy Jacobs, who taught at Roose Primary School in Barrow-in-Furness, died on Sunday, school governor Fred Chatfield said in a letter to parents, saying her death was a ‘huge loss’.
Mrs Jacobs went into self-isolation after she ‘displayed symptoms associated with coronavirus and became unwell’, the school said on March 13.
It has not been confirmed whether she was diagnosed.
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.