Kit Malthouse claims you can cycle up to 70 MILES from your home

Britons can sit on benches, go on bike rides of up to 70 miles but should think carefully about meeting a friend for a coffee and must never go to the supermarket without a mask, Britain's policing minister said today.

Kit Malthouse also accused the public of 'searching for the loopholes in the law' and ignoring the 'spirit' of them by flouting the third national lockdown and insisted that it is the police's job to scrutinise where people are going and who they are meeting outdoors.

But Mr Malthouse said Boris Johnson's decision to go cycling in the Olympic Park seven miles from Downing Street was 'within the rules', saying the PM's Sunday ride in east London was fine because 'local is open to interpretation'.

He said: 'I understand that this is a sort of scotch egg moment where people are searching for the loopholes and the problems in the law. Unfortunately we can’t legislate for every single dynamic of human existence. If you can get there under your own steam and you are not interacting with somebody ... then that seems perfectly reasonable to me' and agreed that a 50 to 70 mile bike ride would also be fine in some cases. 

After widespread confusion about whether people are allowed to sit on park benches, No10 sources said a 'short pause' during the course of exercise would be 'reasonable'. However, they stressed it would be unlawful to go out 'just to sit in public'. 

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Mr Malthouse also said all supermarkets 'reassume their responsibility' and refuse entry to anyone without a face mask and start limiting numbers inside again with flouters facing police fines. But West Yorkshire Police Federation chairman Brian Booth said this morning: 'We just don't have the resources to stand at every supermarket'. 

Despite the confusion over what is and isn't allowed during the current lockdown, like stopping on a bench or for a takeaway coffee during a walk with a friend, Britain's most senior police officer said it is 'preposterous' that people could be unaware of the need to follow the third national lockdown and warned that rule-breakers will be fined.

Met Police chief Dame Cressida Dick said people are still holding house parties, meeting in basements to gamble, and attending unlicensed raves despite rising numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths. 

She warned that anyone caught breaking the rules or failing to comply would result in officers 'moving much more quickly to enforcement action' and urged the Government to enshrine the definition of ‘local’ in law like in Scotland and Wales.

And in a veiled criticism of the PM's Olympic Park bike ride Dame Cressida said: 'For me, a reasonable interpretation of that is that if you can go for your exercise from your front door and come back to your front door', adding: 'The public are looking to all of us as role models'. No 10 is yet to confirm if Mr Johnson cycled there himself or was conveyed to east London by car.

As Mr Johnson also warned of tougher Covid-19 curbs if existing restrictions were ignored:

Another 529 virus deaths were recorded yesterday, up from 407 a week earlier, with 46,169 new cases;  Sainsbury's joins Morrisons as they reinstate bouncers outside supermarkets to challenge people not wearing masks or ignroing social distancing; Derbyshire Police cancelled £200 fines for two women penalised for driving five miles to go for a walk;  Hospitals started rationing oxygen as it emerged that one in four coronavirus patients is under 55.

Kit Malthouse was sent out to clarify the rules by No 10 today but caused more confusion by saying in some cases a 70 mile cycle ride could be allowed

Kit Malthouse was sent out to clarify the rules by No 10 today but caused more confusion by saying in some cases a 70 mile cycle ride could be allowed

Mr Malthouse said Boris Johnson's decision to go cycling in the Olympic Park seven miles from Downing Street was 'within the rules'. PM pictured in 2016

Mr Malthouse said Boris Johnson's decision to go cycling in the Olympic Park seven miles from Downing Street was 'within the rules'. PM pictured in 2016

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Britain's policing minister said a ride of up to 70 miles is allowed of people get there 'by their own steam'

Britain's policing minister said a ride of up to 70 miles is allowed of people get there 'by their own steam'

So what is defined as local and what is allowed?

Government rules state that 'you should not travel outside your local area' for exercise.

However, what does and does not constitute 'local' has been up for debate.

At yesterday's Downing Street press conference, Health Secretary Matt Hancock was asked if Britons were allowed to exercise seven miles from home.

He replied: 'It is OK to go if you went for a long walk and ended up seven miles from home, that is OK, but you should stay local.'

He added: 'You should not go from one side of the country to the other, potentially taking the virus with you, because remember one in three people who have the virus don't know they have it because they don't have symptoms.

'It is OK to go for a long walk or a cycle ride or to exercise, but stay local.' 

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Boris Johnson is under pressure to increase the social distancing gap to three metres to stop the spread of coronavirus - and toughen the existing lockdown, including potentially preventing people leaving the house every day.

Mr Malthouse said: 'Whether there are going to be greater restrictions or not very much depends on the numbers. We are tracking the infection rate.

'We are all, frankly, on tenterhooks to see how the impact of the restrictions that came in on Boxing Day will impact on numbers, particularly in London and the south east.

'This virus is moving so quickly that government is having to make very, very agile decisions about the way we live our lives.

'But, as I say, if we are going to make sure that this is the last lockdown - please God it is - we all need to stick by the rules and take it really, really seriously.

'Unfortunately, we haven't seen that in some parts of the country from a minority of people who are, frankly, letting the rest of us down.'

Police officers are hoping the public will recognise what 'local' means for exercise, said policing minister Kit Malthouse.

When asked whether 'local' should be defined in England, he told Times Radio: 'What we are hoping for is that most people will recognise that local, while it's open to personal interpretation, does have some implications, ie can you get there under your own steam?

'We are trying to strike a balance between maintaining compliance with the rules and elements of public consent to what's happening.

'I think most people would think that was reasonable.

'Where there are unreasonable people who are breaking that rule, police are intervening.'

Mr Malthouse has said that all supermarkets should follow in Morrisons' footsteps to enforce the wearing of masks in stores to prevent the transmission of the virus.

When asked why he thought supermarkets have not done it so far, he told Times Radio: 'I think that, understandably, following the November lockdown there was an element of release and therefore the person at the door, the sanitation station, the traffic light system, the queues outside obviously receded a bit.

'What we hope now, and I know all of them will, that they'll see their responsibility and start to put those things back in place.'

When asked whether police should intervene, he said some officers have issued fines in retail settings, adding: 'What we hope is the vast majority of people, or everybody, will be encouraged to do so by the shop owner.'

Leading members of the Sage scientific advisory panel want the social distancing measures raised from 'one metre plus' to 'two metres plus'.

In practice this would change the limit to three metres – nearly 10ft. The drastic proposal came as a furious Matt Hancock denounced individuals who flout social distancing rules.

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference the Health Secretary said that he would 'not rule out further action if needed.'

He was backed by Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty, who sits on Sage and said it was time to 'double down' on Covid curbs – including outdoor contact.

Asked if a three-metre rule would be imposed in England, a Downing Street spokesman said last night: 'There are no current plans to change social distancing rules. However, everything is kept under review.'

It came as the country recorded a further 529 Covid deaths on Monday - marking a 30 per cent rise on the 407 reported on the same day last week. 

It was the deadliest Monday since April 20 when 570 people lost their lives and it marked the worst week for deaths in Britain since the pandemic began. An average of 931 people have lost their lives on each of the past seven days, compared to the highest seven-day average of 920 in April's first wave. 

But, in a positive sign that the UK's soaring case load may be leveling out, 46,169 people tested positive for the virus - down 20 per cent in a week.

Boris Johnson is under pressure from members of the Sage scientific advisory panel to increase the social distancing gap to stop the spread of coronavirus

Boris Johnson is under pressure from members of the Sage scientific advisory panel to increase the social distancing gap to stop the spread of coronavirus

The distance was set at two metres in March after experts said coronavirus was up to ten times more transmissible at one metre than at two. Now experts want the public to maintain the distance on public transport, in supermarket lines and while out and about

The distance was set at two metres in March after experts said coronavirus was up to ten times more transmissible at one metre than at two. Now experts want the public to maintain the distance on public transport, in supermarket lines and while out and about

Britain yesterday recorded a further 529 Covid deaths - marking a 30 per cent rise on the 407 reported on the same day last week. It is also the deadliest Monday since April 20 when 570 people lost their lives

Britain yesterday recorded a further 529 Covid deaths - marking a 30 per cent rise on the 407 reported on the same day last week. It is also the deadliest Monday since April 20 when 570 people lost their lives

The Daily Mail has been told that several members of Sage say the lockdown needs to be even tougher than the first one in March last year.

The idea of a Chinese-style ban on residents leaving their homes was raised at one meeting.

Ministers are furious that some people have been using their right to daily exercise simply as an excuse to meet friends for a coffee in the park.

One source said: 'If it means limiting people to a single one-hour walk on their own once a week that is what we must do. We cannot let a few selfish idiots put the whole country in danger.'

It is feared that the failure to observe the restrictions is fuelling the number of deaths and risks hospitals becoming overwhelmed.

Increasing the social distancing rule to three metres is seen as one way of stopping the spread of the new variant of the virus, which can be passed on more easily.

Opponents of the move say it would have little impact, cause more confusion and be a logistical nightmare.

Two-metre signs have been painted on pavements across the nation, with similar notices found in tens of thousands of shops, factories, offices and public places.

Changing them all would add to the soaring cost of fighting the pandemic.

Supporters claim the benefit in saving lives and protecting the NHS means the move is worth it. They argue it is a response to the new variant which is thought to be up to be 70 per cent more transmissible.

If it goes ahead it would be the Government's third policy on social distancing.

The distance was set at two metres in March after experts said coronavirus was up to ten times more transmissible at one metre than at two.

But it was reduced to 'one metre plus' in July after the first lockdown – mainly to make it easier for restaurants and cafes to reopen.

Two-metre signs have been painted on pavements across the nation, with similar notices found in tens of thousands of shops, factories, offices and public places

Two-metre signs have been painted on pavements across the nation, with similar notices found in tens of thousands of shops, factories, offices and public places

A 'two metre plus' rule would in practice mean staying three metres apart – nearly 10ft – unless steps were taken to limit the danger of transmission, such as screens.

Social distancing gaps vary around the world.

In China, Hong Kong and Singapore, which were successful in controlling the pandemic, the gap was one metre.

However, they imposed other, far stricter, rules including curfews. Spain and Canada followed the two-metre rule.

The three other home nations have different versions of the two-metre rule.

In Scotland people are advised to keep two metres apart and in Wales they are told to stay two metres apart unless it is not practical, with young children exempt.

The gap in Northern Ireland came down to one metre but is two again.

Professor Paul Hunter of the University of East Anglia said: 'Risk declines the further you are away from someone.

'So three metres will reduce risk somewhat compared to two metres – but it is difficult to say how much and whether that would make a big difference. I suspect the main issue is people not sticking to the two-metre rule.'

Mr Hancock warned against trying to 'push the boundaries' on exercise, adding: 'If too many people break this rule we are going to have a look at it. Don't say you are exercising if really you are just socialising.'

He said the two-metre rule had to be obeyed, not seen 'as a limit to be challenged'. 

Shortly after Mr Hancock's Downing Street press briefing on Monday, the PM released a short video filmed during his visit to the Ashton Gate vaccination centre in Bristol.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it is allowed to cycle seven miles from where you live to take exercise, despite also insisting that people must 'stay local'

In it, he urged Britons to 'follow the guidance, stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives' as Covid continues to spread rapidly in several parts of the country.

Britons shouldn't 'lose focus on the pandemic' as coronavirus is 'still causing huge, huge problems for our NHS', Mr Johnson added. 

Mr Hancock also used the briefing to defend the PM after he was spotted cycling in the Olympic Park seven miles from Downing Street in apparent breach of government advice.

The Health Secretary said it is allowed to cycle that distance from where you live to take exercise, despite also insisting that people must 'stay local'.

But he also warned that rules on two people from different households being able to exercise outdoors together could be torn up if people keep abusing them.

'If too many people keep breaking this rule we are going to have to look at it but I don't want to do that,' Mr Hancock told a No10 briefing yesterday evening.

The PM was seen wearing a hat and a face mask on his bike at the venue seven miles away from Downing Street yesterday afternoon.

Shortly after Mr Hancock's address, the PM released a short video (pictured) filmed during his visit to the Bristol vaccination centre yesterday

Shortly after Mr Hancock's address, the PM released a short video (pictured) filmed during his visit to the Bristol vaccination centre yesterday

In the clip (pictured), he urged Britons to 'follow the guidance, stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives' as Covid continues to spread rapidly in several parts of the country

In the clip (pictured), he urged Britons to 'follow the guidance, stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives' as Covid continues to spread rapidly in several parts of the country

What are the government's rules on taking exercise? 

You should minimise time spent

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