Supermarkets should ban shoppers who refuse to cover their faces, says Matt Hancock, as the Covid crisis continues to worsen.
The health secretary praised Morrisons for acting vigorously, telling a press conference: “This is the right approach.”
The comment came after the store broke ranks, saying: “Those who are offered a face mask and refuse to wear one will not be allowed to shop at Morrisons unless they are medically exempt.” ”
Later Monday, Sainsbury’s also confirmed that it will display trained security guards at the entrances of stores to ‘challenge’ customers who don’t wear masks or do not shop in groups.
This suggests that the government will continue to change the law to ban purchases from refuseniks – despite protests from some supermarket workers about the non-compliance.
Instead, Mr Hancock said: ‘I am delighted that the police are stepping up their enforcement. But it’s not just about government.
He added, “It’s about how everyone behaves. I applaud the action Morrisons is taking today.
The health secretary has also ruled out removing “bubbles” in child care and support – although the lockdown is further tightened in the coming weeks.
And he insisted that the plan to immunize the 15 million most vulnerable people by mid-February would be achieved, saying: “Yes, we are on the right track to achieve this goal.”
The pledge came despite a new vaccination plan admitting that the goal of inoculating 2 million per week may not be reached until the end of January.
Steve Powis, the medical director of the NHS, said there were now 13,000 more Covid-19 patients in hospital than on Christmas Day.
“Less than fifteen days in 2021, the number of people hospitalized with Covid has already increased by a third, an increase of around 8,000”.
And, highlighting the bleak outlook, he added: “We have yet to see the full impact of easing restrictions on Christmas.”
Mr Hancock came under pressure over the rules for leaving home to exercise, after Boris Johnson was spotted cycling in east London over the weekend, 7 miles from Downing Street.
“It’s okay to walk with another person in a park, but you should stay two meters away from the other person,” he said.
“And, likewise, it’s OK, if you’ve taken a long walk and found yourself seven miles from home, that’s OK.”
“But, you have to stay local, you shouldn’t go from one side of a country to another, potentially taking the virus with you. ”
When asked about when the lockdown was relaxed, Mr Hancock declined to give a date, implying it wouldn’t be until those over 60 have been vaccinated, in March or April.
This age group can also die from Covid and represent a significant proportion of people hospitalized, while being less at risk than those over 70, he said.
The other key question is whether the vaccine will stop or reduce transmission from those who receive it – which will not be known for a few weeks or months.