Monday 11 January 2021 5:48 pm

Matt Hancock calls on more businesses to ban those not wearing face coverings

The health secretary has urged businesses to follow Morrisons’ lead and ban mask flouters, as he refused to rule out tougher restrictions on the horizon.

“I applaud the action Morrisons has taken today… That’s the right approach,” Matt Hancock told a Downing Street press briefing, adding: “I want to see all  parts of society playing their part in this”.

Morrisons today became the first British supermarket to enforce an immediate ban on customers who refuse to wear face coverings unless they have a medical exemption.

Under current government rules, people in England are required by law to wear face coverings in most indoor areas including shops, supermarkets, public transport and places of worship. Children under the age of 11 and those with medical exemptions are not required to do so.

The Metropolitan Police last week announced it will no longer “reason with” those not wearing masks in indoor public spaces, and will instead hand out fines more quickly. 

In a new hardline approach, the Met warned that people will also face fines if they have no legitimate explanation for leaving their homes.

Ministers today hinted that further restrictions lie on the horizon as Covid cases continue to spiral across the country.

“We don’t rule out taking further action if it’s needed, but it’s your actions now that can make a difference,” said Hancock. 

“The NHS more than ever before needs everybody to be doing something right now, and that something is to follow the rules,” the health secretary added, as he urged the public to “act like you have the virus”.

Further restrictions could include a ban on allowing two members of different households to exercise together and tougher enforcement of social distancing requirements. 

Hancock ruled out scrapping support bubbles, which allow one-person households to mix with one other household, saying they make up an “important part” of current exemptions.

It comes as Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director of NHS England, warned that the UK’s vaccination programme “cannot be seen as a free pass” to ignore current lockdown rules.

“We have to keep focus and resilience as a country,” he added.

More than 2.6m Covid vaccines have now been administered to around 2.3 m people in the UK — “more than all other countries in Europe put together ,“ said Hancock.

The figure includes almost a quarter of care home residents and 40 per cent of over-80s, who have now received their first dose of the vaccine,