LONG supermarket queues are set to make a return as stores are told they must limit customers.
Ministers have told local councils to place limits on the number of people allowed into shops at any one time over fears they could become hotspots for the virus.
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Meanwhile, supermarkets will see fresh checks on safety policies and possible fines for those flouting rules.
It comes after scientists blamed a lack of social distancing in stores for the rapid spread of the super-infectious new strain.
No 10 is already pessimistic about the prospect of easing restrictions by the end of next month and has pencilled in March 23 — the one-year anniversary of the start of the first lockdown — as the end date.
Boris Johnson met with ministers, public health officials and scientists in his Covid Operations committee yesterday to plan on how best to crack down on rapidly rising case rates. Under the current, tougher lockdown rules, cops can fine flouters £200 for a first offence.
Local authorities will be tasked with carrying out more spot-checks to ensure supermarkets and workplaces allowed to open are operating one-way systems.
Shops will also have to show they are capping the number of customers permitted through the doors at any one time — likely to increase queuing outdoors.
A government source told The Sun: “Last year, these businesses were very good at being Covid-secure. This isn’t happening now because supermarkets are very busy and it’s a real concern. We need to ensure everywhere that is open is secure.”
And a Whitehall source told Mail Online: “There is a feeling that people have just gone back to doing whatever they want, so local authorities will work with supermarkets and other places that are open to make sure they are still Covid-secure.
“That could well mean a return to capacity limits.”
It came as people flocked to beauty spots yesterday despite pleas to stay at home. Scores strolled along busy Tynemouth Longsands beach in North Tyneside while others crammed together outside food stalls and cafes in town and city centres.
One woman, said by cops to be a protester, was led away in handcuffs “for sitting on a bench” at Bournemouth seaside. Nearby, four officers quizzed another for allegedly leaving her home more than once in the same day.
Elsewhere, 13 men were each fined £200 after they were caught playing cards in a police raid on a club in Stoke Newington, in North London.
Earlier this week, two women in Derbyshire were fined £200 each after driving five miles for a socially distanced walk. Met Police chiefs have also launched a probe after officers were photographed apparently flouting lockdown rules by eating breakfast together in a cafe.
There was a chorus of calls yesterday backing the enforcement of existing measures — and for toughening them further. It came as figures revealed a further 563 Covid deaths — the highest Sunday toll in eight months — alongside another 54,940 confirmed positive.
Susan Michie, Professor of health psychology at University College London, said the Government had no choice but “to get right back to where we were in March, unfortunately”.
Professor Peter Horby, chairman of the Government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, said: “We have seen in the past that very strict measures do work and if the current measures aren’t enough then that’s clearly what we have to do.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock refused to rule out imposing stricter rules as he urged the public to stick to the current ones. He said: “These rules are not there as boundaries to be pushed, they are the limit to what people should be doing.
“The police are right to take very seriously the rules. We haven’t brought them in because we wanted to, we’ve brought them in because we had to. Every flexibility can be fatal.”
The Sun says
BEHIND the closed doors of the Covid wards in hospitals across London lie scenes reminiscent of a war zone.
Exhausted doctors are having to choose which dying patients to treat. Breathless elderly folk wait alone on trolleys in corridors. Fleets of ambulances bearing ever greater numbers of Covid casualties queue endlessly outside.
Boris Johnson has begged. Professor Chris Whitty has pleaded.
But their Stay at Home message is just not cutting through as it did last March.
Let’s be honest. Who among us has not been tempted to go out more often than we should or bend the rules?
After ten awful months we are all understandably suffering lockdown fatigue. Many are worn down by months of isolation, unable to see loved ones and friends.
Others are not listening or downright deliberately reckless.
The disturbing truth may be that we are just not frightened enough any more.
But we simply cannot afford to ignore the rules any longer. Complacency over compliance is deadly.
Infection rates are too high, hospitalisations are too high. Deaths are too high. The stakes during this terrible pandemic have never been higher.
This great country must unite for one last sacrifice, for just a few weeks longer.
It’s a national effort in the war on Covid.
Get your favourite paper home delivered for free and stay indoors.
Together we can do it.
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Meanwhile, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called for further measures, including the closure of nursery schools.
A government source said: “Everyone knows the measures are tough. They are akin to those we had last March.
“Now we need everyone to behave in the same way for them to work. We’re looking at what more can be done to make sure enforcement is really tough both for individuals who are clearly breaking the rules and making sure police have strong plans in place to enforce these rules, which are really simple.”
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