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Coronavirus: Conservative ‘mutiny’ over Government advice on ‘social distancing’



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Jeremy Hunt said legally binding measures must be introduced immediately

Monday, 23rd March 2020, 6:20 pm

Updated Monday, 23rd March 2020, 6:21 pmJeremy Hunt called for faster action (Photo: Leon Neal/Getty)

The Government has moved to head off a Conservative “mutiny” over its response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Ministers insisted they were ready to introduce stricter rules on social distancing after mounting criticism of the advice given last week, which was not legally binding.

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Increasing numbers of Tories have called for tougher measures in recent days, saying that any “lockdown” should come sooner rather than later to help slow the spread of Covid-19 as quickly as possible.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Monday, Jeremy Hunt said: “We must move to lockdown rules now that ban non-essential travel. It is time not just to ask people to do social distancing, but to enforce those social distancing rules – not next week, not this week, but right away.”

Call for reinforcement

Conservative MP Mark Pritchard asked the Health Secretary: “Is it not the case that we will have lockdown and isn’t it better to have it today rather than next week?” Matt Hancock replied: “My honourable friend makes an important point and we’re absolutely clear that we’re prepared to take the action that is necessary.”

Former Cabinet minister Julian Smith said the Government should introduce measures to “force people to follow the guidelines designed to protect NHS staff and UK citizens’ lives”.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister said that ministers were examining the data on how much social contact was still taking place and would use the analysis to inform any new guidelines. It came after a source told BuzzFeed News that the Cabinet would launch a “full-scale mutiny” if Boris Johnson did not toughen up the official advice.

Mr Hancock and Michael Gove have been forced to deny reports that they have argued over which of them should be in charge of the Government’s coronavirus response. Meanwhile some Tory MPs have privately warned that it will be difficult to follow social distancing rules within Parliament over the next few days.

Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow Health Secretary, said: “After another weekend of apparent public confusion and widespread non-compliance with ‘social distancing’, of grave scientific warnings and brave medical professionals talking of being sent to work like ‘lambs to the slaughter’ with inadequate protective equipment, something has to change.

“Other countries have taken further far-reaching social distancing measures. We now call on the government to move to enforced social distancing and greater social protection as a matter of urgency.”