Speculation over new 'rules' mooted to avoid second coronavirus lockdown

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel during a visit to North Yorkshire Police headquarters, Northallerton.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel during a visit to North Yorkshire Police headquarters, Northallerton. (PA)

Speculation has continued over the possibility of more changes to coronavirus restrictions after it was reported that Boris Johnson asked officials to draw up new social distancing measures to avoid a second nationwide lockdown.

The prime minister is reportedly considering a lockdown for London because of a steady rise in cases nationwide in recent days, according to The Sunday Times.

The newspaper reported that vulnerable elderly people could also be asked to shield once again to protect them from the pandemic, with those between the ages of 50 and 70 given "personalised risk ratings" and asked to remain inside based on the severity of their medical conditions.

Restricting travel beyond the M25 for those living in London and putting a stop to staying at other people's houses have also reportedly been mooted as potential strategies.

But Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick cast doubt on the reports, saying talk of an expanded shielding programme was “just speculation”.

Traffic passes along the M25 London orbital motorway at just before 09:15am local time, near the town of Egham, on the western outskirts of London, Wednesday, May 13, 2020. Some of the coronavirus lockdown measures are being relaxed in England on Wednesday, with those workers who are unable to work from home, such as those in construction and manufacturing, encouraged to return to work. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Londoners could be limited to travel within the M25 motorway, according to reports. (AP)

Asked about whether new age-related measures were likely, he told Times Radio: “This is just speculation.

“You would expect the Government to be considering all of the range of options that might be available.

“That’s not something that is being actively considered.”

He also said there was “no plan, as far as I’m aware” to bring in travel controls and restrictions on where Londoners could stay as part of efforts to avoid any increased transmission rate in the capital from spreading to the rest of the country.

Last week the government was forced to halt the easing of lockdown measures, which have seen pubs reopen and social distancing loosened.

On top of the alleged lockdown avoidance preparations, experts speculated that ministers might have to order the closure of pubs, which were permitted to start serving again on July 4, if schools are to reopen fully in September.

Professor Graham Medley, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said earlier a "trade off" could be required if the prime minister's pledge is to be met.

Last Friday, the government increased regional lockdown measures for some four million people across Greater Manchester and parts of Lancashire and Yorkshire after a rise in cases.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said the restrictions were being brought in because people were "meeting and not abiding (by) social distancing".

"We take this action with a heavy heart, but we can see increasing rates of Covid across Europe and are determined to do whatever is necessary to keep people safe," Hancock said on Twitter.

Government data published on Friday showed there was "some evidence that the incidence of new infections has increased in recent weeks" in England, he said.

His comments followed chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty's remarks that the country was "near the limit" for opening up society following the coronavirus lockdown.

Chief medical officer Chris Whitty said: "I don't think it is helpful" to talk yet of a second wave sweeping across Europe, but admitted the actions taken so far to ease restrictions were "at the edge" of what could be done safely.

"The idea that we can open up everything and keep the virus under control is clearly wrong and what we're seeing is that we're at the outer edge of what we can do," he said.

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