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Tougher lockdown not ruled out by Matt Hancock as scientists urge tighter restrictions

The health secretary has not ruled out a tougher lockdown amid soaring coronavirus infection rates and increased hospital admissions across the UK.

Matt Hancock told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show that he did not wish to “speculate”, but emphasised the government’s message for people to “stay at home and follow the rules that we’ve got”.

In a separate interview with Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday, he backed more stringent enforcement of lockdown rules by police and warned that “every flexibility” of the rules could be fatal.

Asked about Derbyshire Police’s approach in fining two women £200 each after they drove five miles from their homes to go for a walk at a remote beauty spot, Mr Hancock said: “I’m absolutely going to back the police because the challenge here is that every flex can be fatal.

“You might look at the rules and think, ‘Well, it doesn’t matter too much if I just do this or do that’. But these rules are not there as boundaries to be pushed, they are the limit to what people should be doing.”

His comments come as health experts and scientists urged the government to impose tighter lockdown restrictions to slow the spread of coronavirus and stop the NHS from being overwhelmed.

The chief medical officer for England, Professor Chris Whitty, issued a stark warning on Sunday that the NHS is facing the “most dangerous situation” in living memory as it struggles to cope with the UK’s soaring number of infections.

Prof Whitty urged Britons to adhere to lockdown rules and stay at home, and warned that if the spread of the Covid-19 continues on its current trajectory, “there will be avoidable deaths”.

Susan Michie, a professor of health psychology at University College London and a member of Independent Sage, said there should be a return to the national lockdown imposed in March last year, which had tighter rules.

She told the BBC: “We have to get to a situation if we’re going to get on top of this virus and prevent tens of thousands of avoidable deaths which we are looking at over the next few weeks.”

Prof Michie added this would mean “absolutely having to get right back to where we were in March, unfortunately”.

The former director of the World Health Organisation and fellow member of Independent Sage, Anthony Costello, said that only a “total clampdown” similar to those seen in some countries in Asia would be able to slow transmissions.

He told The Mirror that the UK is in a “national crisis” and is dealing with a pandemic that has spun out of control.

“We should have no nurseries open, no synagogues, no churches, no mosques. We should have compulsory masks, two-metre distancing,” said Mr Costello.

“We have to take this really seriously – that’s what Asian states did. The longer we allow it to go on transmitting, the quicker we are going to get a resistant virus to a vaccine, then we are in real doo-doo.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has also said the current lockdown rules were “tough and necessary”, but may not be enough to curb transmissions and has the added frustration of “mixed messages”.

“It’s up to the government to put that (stay at home) message out there the whole time,” he told the BBC.

“We’ve had mixed messages, I’m afraid, for the last nine months, which is why we’ve got a problem. I would like to have the prime minister out there every day with a press conference, making sure that message is absolutely getting through because that’s the most crucial thing.”

The number of hospital admissions of patients with Covid-19 have reached a record high in England, while the official death toll from the virus for the UK passed 80,000 on Saturday and lab-confirmed cases breached the three million mark.

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