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Coronavirus: Exercise out of the home ‘could be banned’ if people flout rules

Exercise outside the home could be banned if people ignore coronavirus social distancing rules, the health secretary has warned.

Matt Hancock told the BBC’s Andrew Marr that the government would “take action” if needed to control the virus.

It comes after reports of groups of people gathering in parks during sunny weather this weekend.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health said there were a further 621 deaths linked to coronavirus in the UK.

These latest deaths bring the total in the UK to 4,934, including 12 more in Wales, seven in Northern Ireland and two in Scotland.

As of 09:00 BST on Sunday, 47,806 people had tested positive for coronavirus, the Department of Health said.

Mr Hancock said: “If you don’t want us to have to take the step to ban exercise of all forms outside of your own home, then you’ve got to follow the rules.”

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The health secretary said the vast majority were sticking to the guidelines, adding: “Let’s not have a minority spoil it for everybody.”

He said the timing of restrictions being lifted would depend on how people behave, adding that “the more people stay at home the less the virus will spread”.

Speaking to Sky’s Sophy Ridge earlier, Mr Hancock said sunbathing in public spaces was against the government’s coronavirus social distancing rules.

It comes as Brockwell Park in Lambeth was forced to close on Sunday after more than 3,000 people spent the day there sunbathing or in large groups on Saturday.

There were similar scenes on Primrose Hill in Camden on Saturday, when police moved on more than 100 people.

But local officers tweeted to say thank you after finding far fewer crowds in the area on Sunday.

And Brighton beach was nearly deserted on Sunday, following a warning by Brighton and Hove City Council that too many people were meeting up with friends on the seafront.

It prompted a tweet from Sussex police thanking the public for heeding government advice.

In Essex, local police echoed the sentiment, tweeting that “areas that would normally be busy on a sunny Sunday are not today”.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has warned London’s parks will be forced to close if Londoners do not follow the rules on social gatherings, and urged people to stay at home amid the warm weather.

The Met Office said some parts of the UK could see temperatures of up to 21C on Sunday, with blue skies and sunshine forecast for much of the day across the country.

Restrictions state that everybody must stay at home where possible, and only leave if they have a “reasonable excuse”, such as exercise or shopping for basic necessities.

Newly elected Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner told Sophy Ridge it was “all right for people who have got big houses and huge back gardens” to tell sunbathers observing social distancing to stop doing so.

“If you’re stuck in inadequate accommodation… and you’re all on top of each other, quite literally, then I think people should do social distancing and should keep their distance, but also be reasonable and proportionate about that,” she said.

Harriet Harman, MP for Camberwell and Peckham, has called for a rota for the use of public parks, writing on Twitter that families in flats with young children need green spaces during the lockdown.

Mr Hancock’s warning came ahead of the Queen’s address to the nation on Sunday, in which she will stress the value of self-discipline and resolve during the coronavirus pandemic.

In other developments:

Mr Hancock said the physical and mental health benefits of exercise were “really important”, and that he did not want to remove exercise as a reason to leave home.

But he added: “If the result of that is that too many people go out and flout the other rules because they say ‘well if I can exercise then it’s fine for me to do other things’ then I’m afraid we will have to take action.”

New Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the party would support the government it if decides to toughen lockdown measures.

“We’ve got to get through this and every time people break the guidance from the government they put other people at risk,” he said.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted his thanks to “everyone who is saving lives by staying at home this weekend”.

“I know it’s tough, but if we all work together and follow the guidance we will beat coronavirus,” he said.

Mr Hancock said that the number of ventilators needed over the coming weeks will be 18,000, and that currently there are between 9,000 and 10,000 within the NHS.

When asked about the number of nurses that had died of coronavirus, Mr Hancock said the latest figure was three deaths.

The Queen’s address will be broadcast on TV, radio and social media at 20:00 BST.

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