Matt Hancock has accused those still socialising of “very selfish” behaviour that risks the lives of NHS workers and others, as he signalled tougher restrictions on movement are likely to be on the way.
The health secretary said stricter rules such as curfews or further closures could come into place “very soon” and urged people still socialising or going to holiday locations to “stop it, and if you don’t stop it then we’re going to have to take more measures”.
He took a much tougher line than the prime minister on those defying social distancing rules, saying people carrying on as usual were being “incredibly unfair to go and socialise in the way we have seen”.
“By helping spread the virus they slow down our ability to stop it. It means all these measures are going to have to be in place for longer. If you follow the rules you are helping the country to get through this as quickly as possible,” he told BBC Breakfast.
Asked on the Today programme why people are defying government instructions, he said: “I don’t know because it is very selfish. The consequence of that costs lives and it means for everyone this will go on for longer …
“It is incredibly important that people stay more than two metres away from others wherever they are or stay at home wherever possible.
“It’s important people get exercise but they should do it staying away from others.”
Johnson warned on Sunday that the UK could face an Italy-style lockdown within days if the public do not keep two metres apart but he also stressed that he wanted people to enjoy the outdoors, prompting claims he was sending out mixed messages.
Johnson has refused to directly criticise those ignoring government advice but Hancock specifically hit out at those who were carrying on socialising as usual for “putting people in the NHS at risk” and said the government was “absolutely prepared” to bring in tougher measures.
He told Sky News: “It’s what we might have to do to protect life … We’re taking these actions earlier in the epidemic than others European countries, but we’ve seen what’s happened in other European countries.”
In a round of broadcast interviews, he acknowledged problems with NHS medical staff getting the right protective clothing to keep them safe from coronavirus and signalled that new lockdown measures could come in “very soon”.
Hancock promised the army would help deliver personal protective equipment (PPE), after pleas from medics for the necessary masks, goggles and protective clothing.
With reports of nurses wearing bin bags and doctors being given out-of-date masks, Hancock said he took responsibility for improving the situation.
“I am determined to ensure that the right kit gets to the right hospital, the right ambulance service, the right doctors’ surgery, right across the country,” said Hancock.
“There have been challenges and I can see that. We’re on it and trying to solve all the problems.
“I take very seriously my responsibility, as secretary of state, to make sure that everybody working in the NHS, across social care, is safe, and for that they need the right equipment.”
Rosena Allin-Khan, the Labour deputy leadership contender and medic, reported that doctors were running out of PPE when she worked an A&E shift over the weekend.
“Are we scared? Of course we are … but we need to have the PPE to keep us safe and practise social distancing. In a matter of days or a couple of weeks we will be having to make life or death decisions,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
The government insisted that 200 hospitals, ambulance trusts, GP practices, pharmacists, care homes and hospices had all been receiving additional supplies over the past week, with the kit drops set to continue to match demand.
From this week the army will start to help to manage and offload supplies in NHS settings, and distribute urgent PPE supplies to the frontline during the coronavirus epidemic.
Hancock also revealed that the NHS now has 12,000 ventilators, up from 5,000, but the difficulty will be ensuring enough trained staff to use them.