Supermarkets told to bring back limit on customer numbers amid fears over lockdown rule-breaking

Shoppers face a return to long queues outside supermarkets under plans for a new crackdown.

Ministers tonight ordered local authorities to place limits on the number of people allowed into shops at any one time, amid fears they could become virus hotspots.

Other stores deemed non-essential, or not operating in a ‘Covid-secure’ way, could be shut.

A Whitehall source said: ‘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.’

The move comes amid mounting concern that the third lockdown is not being observed nearly as closely as the first one last year.

Shoppers could face queues outside supermarkets as ministers have instructed authorities to limit the number of people allowed in at one time over fears they are becoming virus hotspots

Shoppers could face queues outside supermarkets as ministers have instructed authorities to limit the number of people allowed in at one time over fears they are becoming virus hotspots

Boris Johnson has so far resisted calls from scientists to tighten it even further by closing nurseries or imposing night-time curfews.

But the Government’s Covid Operations committee today agreed to tighten enforcement of existing rules.

It was also agreed that senior medics, including the Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and Chief Nurse Ruth May, will lead appeals for the public to comply.

And ministers were finalising contingency plans to prevent individual hospitals from ‘falling over’ under the pressure of Covid cases.

The moves follow a warning from Professor Whitty that a number of hospitals in London and the South East are now close to the point where they may be unable to admit more patients.

Non-essential shops or those not following Covid-secure guidelines may also be force to shut

Non-essential shops or those not following Covid-secure guidelines may also be force to shut

Plans could include using the Nightingale hospitals to take recovering patients.

Professor Whitty today warned that hospitals were facing ‘the most dangerous situation anyone can remember’.

The NHS is also set to allow more TV crews into hospitals to show the public the brutal reality on wards. The shock tactics are designed to give the public a ‘massive jolt’.

The latest Covid figures yesterday continued to make grim reading, with another 54,940 positive cases, the 13th straight day numbers have surpassed 50,000, and a further 563 deaths recorded within 24 hours.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned: ‘Every time you try to flex the rules that could be fatal.’

Boris Johnson has so far resisted calls from scientists to tighten the lockdown even further

Boris Johnson has so far resisted calls from scientists to tighten the lockdown even further

But former minister Steve Baker, deputy chairman of the Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs, said: ‘Terrorising the public has run its course and is ethically questionable.’

Anthony Costello, a professor of global health at UCL and a former WHO director, said that only ‘a total clampdown’ would be enough to stop the virus. He said: ‘We are in a national crisis with a pandemic out of control.’

Government sources yesterday played down reports that the PM has pencilled in March 23 – the anniversary of the first lockdown – as the date when restrictions could be eased, saying: ‘It is much too early to speculate.’

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