Covid: What could 'tougher' measures mean for us?

By David Shukman
Science editor

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Image source, PA Media

The prime minister has said that tougher measures could be needed to help cope with a surge in coronavirus cases.

He has not yet said whether we will need school closures, or even overnight curfews like those imposed in France.

But clues about such measures to tackle the new more infectious variant come from the government's Sage advisory committee.

The headline is that whether we see a return to only being allowed one form of daily outdoor exercise, or stricter controls on travel around the country, we'll be hearing a lot more about something already very familiar: hand hygiene, social distancing, wearing masks and ensuring there is fresh air.

These may sound familiar but the advisers believe that because the new variant spreads so easily, the measures need to be applied with "a step change in rigour" - in other words, a lot more forcefully.

They suggest considering a return to the two-metre rule because it's more effective than the one-metre plus guidance adopted last year.

Masks need to be made of three layers, not just one, and worn in more locations than now - including workplaces, schools and crowded outdoor spaces.

Reduce social contact

The key message is that it is vital to reduce social contact - being close to people, especially indoors for long periods of time, carries the highest risk of infection.

So expect tier four-type bans on visiting other households to become normal.

The advisers also say many people still do not recognise the key symptoms of Covid-19 - so ministers need to spell them out and help people understand why they should self-isolate.

But they also say it is essential to praise the efforts made so far, to recognise sacrifices and emphasise how they've kept infection numbers lower than they would otherwise have been.

Whatever new measures are picked, the advice to ministers is to offer "clear and convincing explanations" to motivate people.

That could be a hint that the government's current "hands, face, space" slogan may need to make way for something stronger.

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