Boris Johnson blames China’s traditional medicine for Covid pandemic

Boris Johnson launched a blistering attack on China, blaming its ‘demented’ traditional medical practices for the coronavirus pandemic.

In a speech to world leaders yesterday he attacked people who ‘grind up the scales of a pangolin’ in a bid to become more ‘potent’.

He made the remarks, which risk a furious diplomatic row – in a speech to the One Planet Summit, hosted by France’s President Macron.

Pangolins are heavily-trafficked scaly anteater-like creatures, which have been blamed for transmitting the virus from bats to humans.

The first documented cases of the Covid-19 were in the Chinese city of Wuhan, with a wet market trading in exotic animals being seen as the probable source.

In comments that are likely to risk fury from Beijing, Mr Johnson said: ‘Obviously it’s right to focus on climate change, obviously it’s right to cut CO2 emissions, but we won’t achieve a real balance with our planet unless we protect nature as well. 

‘One final thought, don’t forget that the coronavirus pandemic was the product of an imbalance in man’s relationship with the natural world.

‘Like the original plague which struck the Greeks I seem to remember in book one of the Iliad, it is a zoonotic disease. 

‘It originates from bats or pangolins, from the demented belief that if you grind up the scales of a pangolin you will somehow become more potent or whatever it is people believe, it originates from this collision between mankind and the natural world and we’ve got to stop it.’

But China has warned claims against the country will not be tolerated, Bloomberg reported. Today Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said: ‘We’ve said many times that origin tracing is a scientific matter.

‘There is no room, no place, for people making speculations, hyping up – otherwise it will only disrupt international co-operation.’ 

On another day of chaos for Britons battling the worst crisis for a generation:

  • Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey warned furlough is masking unemployment and the true rate could be 6.5 per cent not 4.9 per cent;
  • The government is facing more pressure to make the vaccination programme 24-hours and start giving more frontline workers jabs;
  • Matt Hancock has denied there is a national oxygen shortage as the strain on the NHS increases but admitted patients might have to be moved to where there are supplies; 
  • One in every three deaths in England and Wales was linked to coronavirus in the final days of 2020, official figures revealed today as a separate analysis claimed the virus was behind the sharpest rise in fatalities since 1940;
  • Downing Street has admitted pictures of the random contents in some free school meal food parcels are ‘completely unacceptable’ after the issue was highlighted by Marcus Rashford;  
  • Seven vaccination hubs have come into use, including London’s ExCeL and Birmingham’s Millennium Point;
  • Derbyshire Police has cancelled £200 fines for two women penalised for driving five miles to go for a walk;
  • Nearly a quarter of care home residents have received their first shot of Covid vaccine, with nearly 2.7million doses now administered across the UK;
  • Hospitals started rationing oxygen as it emerged that one in four coronavirus patients is under 55.
Two suspects surrounded by dead pangolin that were among 457 confiscated from a wild animal smuggling ring in Guangdong Province, China

Two suspects surrounded by dead pangolin that were among 457 confiscated from a wild animal smuggling ring in Guangdong Province, China

Two suspects surrounded by dead pangolin that were among 457 confiscated from a wild animal smuggling ring in Guangdong Province, China

The general hunting and trading of pangolins have been banned in China since the late 1980s, but the exotic mammals are still trafficked by the thousands for their perceived nutritional value

The general hunting and trading of pangolins have been banned in China since the late 1980s, but the exotic mammals are still trafficked by the thousands for their perceived nutritional value

The general hunting and trading of pangolins have been banned in China since the late 1980s, but the exotic mammals are still trafficked by the thousands for their perceived nutritional value

Pangolins are heavily-trafficked scaly anteater-like creatures, which have been blamed for transmitting the virus from bats to humans

Pangolins are heavily-trafficked scaly anteater-like creatures, which have been blamed for transmitting the virus from bats to humans

Pangolins are heavily-trafficked scaly anteater-like creatures, which have been blamed for transmitting the virus from bats to humans

In a speech to world leaders yesterday Mr Johnson (pictured)  attacked people who 'grind up the scales of a pangolin' in a bid to become more 'potent'

In a speech to world leaders yesterday Mr Johnson (pictured)  attacked people who 'grind up the scales of a pangolin' in a bid to become more 'potent'

In a speech to world leaders yesterday Mr Johnson (pictured)  attacked people who ‘grind up the scales of a pangolin’ in a bid to become more ‘potent’

What has Covid got to do with pangolins?

Pangolins – or rather those who traffic them – have been implicated in the explosion in coronavirus out of China last year.   

Investigations by scientists have discovered that pangolins – a valuable illegal commodity in China – could be immune to Covid 19.

This would allow them to act as an unharmed vector carrying the virus from bats deep in the wild, where they live, to public markets where the scaly creatures are illicitly traded. 

The majority of scientists believe it originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, most likely in its ‘wet market’.

These are open air food markets and often include meat from animals slaughtered on site. ‘Wet’ is used to signify it sells fresh produce, as opposed to ‘dry’ goods that can be anything from durable foods to electronics. 

Some – a few – sell captured wild animals and their meat, and this is believed to be how the disease was able to pass from bats to humans.  

The black market trade in the creature has also been previously implicated in oubreaks of bird flu. 

World Health Organization experts will visit the city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first detected in late 2019, on Thursday at the start of their investigation into the origins of the pandemic, Chinese authorities have said.

China has denied that the market – or pangolins – are involved in the spread of the virus, and its authoritarian regime has blamed other countries such as India for the outbreak. 

Another theory is that the  virus was engineered in a Chinese lab.

One of America’s most senior government officials last week claimed this was the most ‘credible’ origin theory.

Matthew Pottinger, president Donald Trump’s Deputy National Security Adviser, told politicians from around the world that even China’s leaders now openly admit their previous claims that the virus originated in a Wuhan market are false.

Mr Pottinger said that the latest intelligence points to the virus leaking from the top-secret Wuhan Institute of Virology, 11 miles from the market, saying: ‘There is a growing body of evidence that the lab is likely the most credible source of the virus.’

In a zoom call with UK MPs he claimed the pathogen may have escaped through a ‘leak or an accident’, adding: ‘Even establishment figures in Beijing have openly dismissed the wet market story.’ 

Like the wet markets, China has denied the lab having anything to do with the outbreak. 

The visit to Wuhan by the WHO team is already mired in controversy after it published terms of reference revealing it will not investigate the Wuhan institute – the only laboratory in China with the highest international bio-security grading – as a possible source of Covid-19.

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Mr Johnson’s attack on China was followed today by a broadside by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab over the treatment of the Uighur minority.

He said British firms will face heavy fines if they are lined to Chinese human rights abuse and companies will have to meet requirements showing their supply chains are free from forced labour in the Xinjiang province, the Foreign Secretary told the Commons this afternoon.

The Beijing government has been accused of widespread abuse in the area, home to the Muslim Uighurs, including allegations of forced sterilisation, slave labour and mass internment.

Members of the Uighur minority group have reportedly been made to pick cotton in Xinjiang province, leading to concerns British consumers could inadvertently be buying tainted goods. 

Mr Raab said companies will be given robust guidance on how to carry out due diligence checks to make sure they are not sourcing products tainted by the human rights violations in the province. 

He told MPs the picture of human rights abuses in Xinjiang was ‘harrowing’ and the UK had a ‘moral duty to respond’. 

Pangolins inhabit tropical forests in India, China, south-east Asia and parts of Africa.

Out of the eight existing sub-species, three are critically endangered, and all of them are protected by international treaty.

The general hunting and trading of pangolins have been banned in China since the late 1980s, but the exotic mammals are still trafficked by the thousands for their perceived nutritional value.

Their scales are deemed as a previous ingredient by believers of traditional Chinese medicine and its than 123 tons were sold in 2019 on the black market.

People also eat their meat for the supposed health benefits and the animals’ blood is seen as a healing tonic.

China has previously denied they are a vector for moving the virus from bats to humans.

Last year researchers in the Communist state found that the animals are indeed natural hosts for various coronaviruses, but do not appear to be the direct source of Covid-19.

In November a different team from the Chinese Academy of Sciences claimed the virus likely originated in India in summer 2019 – jumping from animals to humans via contaminated water – before travelling unnoticed to Wuhan, where it was first detected. 

Mr Johnson has previously called for greater protection for pangolins.

In 2018 he wrote a newspaper article calling for greater efforts to track down on hunting and smuggling the mammal.

He wrote: ‘As we get older we human beings are capable of all manner of self-deception. We go under the knife in the hope of looking younger. We take pills and potions of dubious efficacity.

‘But in the annals of human folly there is surely nothing more delusional than the belief still prevalent in large parts of Asia that a man can somehow rectify his waning virility by grinding and eating the scales of a pangolin.

‘And yet that is what they do. The tragedy is that all eight species of pangolin are now endangered, two of them critically so.

‘We are losing them to poachers at a rate of 100,000 a year. They are smuggled, butchered and cooked – all for the sake of their mythical medicinal qualities.’ 

Mr Johnson gathered Cabinet today amid fears lockdown could be tightened within days unless coronavirus numbers ease.

The PM has been holding a virtual meeting with his senior team as they consider the next move in the crisis wreaking havoc on the country.

Ministers have been desperately pleading with Britons to limit their contacts as the NHS struggles to cope with the volume of Covid patients, as police ramp up enforcement of the brutal restrictions.

But the government has made clear it is ready to get even tougher, with leading figures on SAGE pushing for a three metre social rule distancing rule and threats to axe the loophole allowing people to exercise with a friend from another household.

Other options thought to have been considered include stopping non-essential click-and-collect shopping, and closing more workplaces.

Matt Hancock hinted at a crackdown on exercising with one other person at a Downing Street briefing last night, saying the exception was being abused to socialise.

In another ominous sign this morning, Mr Johnson tweeted saying that ‘meeting others from outside your household or support bubble puts you and others at risk of serious disease’.

However, in a round of interviews policing minister Kit Malthouse risked muddying the message by saying a 70-mile cycle ride would count as ‘staying local’ under the lockdown rules.

In a further attac on China, companies will have to meet requirements showing their supply chains are free from forced labour in the Xinjiang province, the Foreign Secretary told the Commons this afternoon

In a further attac on China, companies will have to meet requirements showing their supply chains are free from forced labour in the Xinjiang province, the Foreign Secretary told the Commons this afternoon

In a further attac on China, companies will have to meet requirements showing their supply chains are free from forced labour in the Xinjiang province, the Foreign Secretary told the Commons this afternoon

Members of the Uighur minority group have reportedly been made to pick cotton in Xinjiang province, leading to concerns British consumers could inadvertently be buying tainted goods

Members of the Uighur minority group have reportedly been made to pick cotton in Xinjiang province, leading to concerns British consumers could inadvertently be buying tainted goods

Members of the Uighur minority group have reportedly been made to pick cotton in Xinjiang province, leading to concerns British consumers could inadvertently be buying tainted goods

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

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

Pictured: A map showing the nine countries China has blamed for the outbreak of Covid-19

Pictured: A map showing the nine countries China has blamed for the outbreak of Covid-19

Pictured: A map showing the nine countries China has blamed for the outbreak of Covid-19

Boris Johnson in a Protect The Pangolin t-shirt in 2018, while jogging with then Australian counterpart foreign minister Julie Bishop

Boris Johnson in a Protect The Pangolin t-shirt in 2018, while jogging with then Australian counterpart foreign minister Julie Bishop

Boris Johnson in a Protect The Pangolin t-shirt in 2018, while jogging with then Australian counterpart foreign minister Julie Bishop

Mr Johnson gathered Cabinet today amid fears lockdown could be tightened within days unless coronavirus numbers ease.

The PM has been holding a virtual meeting with his senior team as they consider the next move in the crisis wreaking havoc on the country.

Ministers have been desperately pleading for people to limit their contacts as the NHS struggles to cope with the volume of Covid patients, and police ramp up enforcement of the brutal restrictions.

But the government has made clear it is ready to get even tougher, with leading figures on SAGE pushing for a three metre social rule distancing rule and threats to axe the loophole allowing people to exercise with a friend from another household.

Other options thought to have been considered for England include restricting click and collect to essential retail, and closing more workplaces.

Nicola Sturgeon said today that she is considering harsher click and collect limits in Scotland, as well as tightening the rules on takeaways. She is expected to announce any changes tomorrow.

Matt Hancock hinted at a crackdown on exercising with one other person at a Downing Street briefing last night, saying the exception was being abused to socialise.

In another ominous sign this morning, Mr Johnson tweeted saying that ‘meeting others from outside your household or support bubble puts you and others at risk of serious disease’.

However, in a round of interviews policing minister Kit Malthouse risked muddying the message by saying a 70-mile cycle ride would count as ‘staying local’ under the lockdown rules.

The comments came after Mr Johnson faced a backlash for cycling with his security detail in the Olympic Park over the weekend – seven miles from Downing Street.

There is also fresh confusion after No10 sources insisted it is not against the rules to sit on park benches, but only for a ‘short pause’ during exercise.

The scale of the problem confronting the UK was starkly illustrated again last night with another 529 Covid deaths recorded – 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 the UK 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 glimmer of hope 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.

The effects of the widespread Tier 4 lockdown that came into force on Boxing Day, and the national lockdown from last week, should be starting to feed into the daily infection figures

Boris Johnson gathers Cabinet amid fears lockdown could get tighter in DAYS unless Covid numbers turn – with options including a THREE-metre rule and banning people from different households from exercising together

Boris Johnson gathered Cabinet today amid fears lockdown could be tightened within days unless coronavirus numbers ease.

The PM has been holding a virtual meeting with his senior team as they consider the next move in the crisis wreaking havoc on the country.

Ministers have been desperately pleading with Britons to limit their contacts as the NHS struggles to cope with the volume of Covid patients, as police ramp up enforcement of the brutal restrictions.

But the government has made clear it is ready to get even tougher, with leading figures on SAGE pushing for a three metre social rule distancing rule and threats to axe the loophole allowing people to exercise with a friend from another household.

Other options thought to have been considered include making all shopping click and collect, and closing more workplaces. 

Matt Hancock hinted at a crackdown on exercising with one other person at a Downing Street briefing last night, saying the exception was being abused to socialise.

In another ominous sign this morning, Mr Johnson tweeted saying that ‘meeting others from outside your household or support bubble puts you and others at risk of serious disease’. 

However, in a round of interviews policing minister Kit Malthouse risked muddying the message by saying a 70-mile cycle ride would count as ‘staying local’ under the lockdown rules. 

The comments came after Mr Johnson faced a backlash for cycling with his security detail in the Olympic Park over the weekend – seven miles from Downing Street. 

There is also fresh confusion after No10 sources insisted it is not against the rules to sit on park benches, but only for a ‘short pause’ during exercise. 

The scale of the problem confronting the UK was starkly illustrated again last night with another 529 Covid deaths recorded – 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 the UK 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 glimmer of hope 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.

The effects of the widespread Tier 4 lockdown that came into force on Boxing Day, and the national lockdown from last week, should be starting to feed into the daily infection figures. 

On another day of chaos for Britons battling the worst crisis for a generation:

  • Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey warned furlough is masking unemployment and the true rate could be 6.5 per cent not 4.9 per cent;
  • The government is facing more pressure to make the vaccination programme 24-hours and start giving more frontline workers jabs;
  • Seven vaccination hubs came into use, including London’s ExCeL and Birmingham’s Millennium Point;
  • Derbyshire Police has cancelled £200 fines for two women penalised for driving five miles to go for a walk;
  • Nearly a quarter of care home residents have received their first shot of Covid vaccine, with nearly 2.7million doses now administered across the UK;
  • Hospitals started rationing oxygen as it emerged that one in four coronavirus patients is under 55.
Mr Johnson held a virtual meeting with his senior team as they consider the next move in the crisis wreaking havoc on the country

Mr Johnson held a virtual meeting with his senior team as they consider the next move in the crisis wreaking havoc on the country

Mr Johnson held a virtual meeting with his senior team as they consider the next move in the crisis wreaking havoc on the country

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

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

Nearly 2.7million vaccine doses have been administered across the UK, according to government figures from last night

Nearly 2.7million vaccine doses have been administered across the UK, according to government figures from last night

Nearly 2.7million vaccine doses have been administered across the UK, according to government figures from last night

In another ominous sign this morning, Mr Johnson tweeted saying that 'meeting others from outside your household or support bubble puts you and others at risk of serious disease'

In another ominous sign this morning, Mr Johnson tweeted saying that 'meeting others from outside your household or support bubble puts you and others at risk of serious disease'

In another ominous sign this morning, Mr Johnson tweeted saying that ‘meeting others from outside your household or support bubble puts you and others at risk of serious disease’

PM is given March deadline by Tory lockdown-sceptics  

Boris Johnson has been given a March 8 target by Tory lockdown sceptics to start easing coronavirus curbs.

Former chief whip Mark Harper, chairman of the Tory backbench Covid Recovery Group, said restrictions should not remain in place for ‘a second longer’ once the vaccine has protected priority groups.

Around 15 million people are expected to be vaccinated by mid-February, covering care home residents, the over-70s, clinically extremely vulnerable people and frontline health and care staff.

Those groups accounted for 88% of fatalities in the first wave and the Government is in a race against time to protect them with a first dose of vaccine.

Mr Harper suggested that once they had received their jab – and it has been given time to become effective – there should be no excuse for keeping England’s national lockdown in place.

More than 2.3 million people have so far received a jab and Mr Harper said achieving the mid-February goal must remain the ‘central, overriding focus’ for ministers.

He said that ‘like the disease, lockdowns and restrictions cause immense harm’.

‘So for today’s progress to really mean something to the millions of people across the country who are doing the right thing and obeying the law, the Government must urgently set out exactly how today’s progress begins to translate into a return to normal life for us all and show a clear exit strategy – a route back to freedom.’

With a lag of three weeks between the vaccine being administered and offering its full protection, Mr Harper said ‘if we hit the crucial February 15 deadline, the four top-risk groups will have immunity by March 8’.

‘At that point – once all the key groups have become immune to Covid – what possible reason could there be for keeping severe restrictions in place a second longer?

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Mr Johnson warned yesterday that ‘complacency’ among the public could plunge the country into a deeper crisis at what was already a ‘very perilous moment’. 

The warnings came amid mounting Government concern that the third lockdown may fail to bring the latest spike in coronavirus infections under control.

Chief medical officer Chris Whitty said Britain was ‘now at the worst point of this epidemic’ and urged people to stop seeing friends and family, even in the limited circumstances still allowed, saying every ‘unnecessary’ contact risked spreading the virus.

The only assurances so far offered are that support bubbles will remain in place and nurseries can stay open.  

Mr Johnson has been given a March 8 target by Tory lockdown sceptics to start easing coronavirus curbs.

Former chief whip Mark Harper, chairman of the Tory backbench Covid Recovery Group, said restrictions should not remain in place for ‘a second longer’ once the vaccine has protected priority groups.

Around 15 million people are expected to be vaccinated by mid-February, covering care home residents, the over-70s, clinically extremely vulnerable people and frontline health and care staff.

Those groups accounted for 88% of fatalities in the first wave and the Government is in a race against time to protect them with a first dose of vaccine.

Mr Harper suggested that once they had received their jab – and it has been given time to become effective – there should be no excuse for keeping England’s national lockdown in place.

More than 2.3 million people have so far received a jab and Mr Harper said achieving the mid-February goal must remain the ‘central, overriding focus’ for ministers.

He said that ‘like the disease, lockdowns and restrictions cause immense harm’.

‘So for today’s progress to really mean something to the millions of people across the country who are doing the right thing and obeying the law, the Government must urgently set out exactly how today’s progress begins to translate into a return to normal life for us all and show a clear exit strategy – a route back to freedom.’

With a lag of three weeks between the vaccine being administered and offering its full protection, Mr Harper said ‘if we hit the crucial February 15 deadline, the four top-risk groups will have immunity by March 8’.

‘At that point – once all the key groups have become immune to Covid – what possible reason could there be for keeping severe restrictions in place a second longer?

Mr Johnson is facing growing pressure to launch round-the-clock vaccinations as ministers ‘race against time’ to get jabs in arms.

Labour has demanded the Government ‘sorts out’ a 24/7 operation despite No10 claiming there is no ‘clamour’ for appointments after 8pm.

Tory MPs are urging ministers to ‘look carefully’ at whether the hours can be extended while some have said there is ‘no excuse why it shouldn’t be 24/7’.

Armed police were on duty at Waterloo Station today as the government considers tightening the lockdown rules again

Armed police were on duty at Waterloo Station today as the government considers tightening the lockdown rules again

Armed police were on duty at Waterloo Station today as the government considers tightening the lockdown rules again

The concourse was all-but deserted at Waterloo as the public gets used to the draconian restrictions being in place

The concourse was all-but deserted at Waterloo as the public gets used to the draconian restrictions being in place

The concourse was all-but deserted at Waterloo as the public gets used to the draconian restrictions being in place

Pressure mounts for 24-hour vaccinations 

Boris Johnson is facing growing pressure to launch round-the-clock vaccinations as ministers ‘race against time’ to get jabs in arms.

Labour has demanded the Government ‘sorts out’ a 24/7 operation despite No10 claiming there is no ‘clamour’ for appointments after 8pm.

Tory MPs are urging ministers to ‘look carefully’ at whether the hours can be extended while some have said there is ‘no excuse why it shouldn’t be 24/7’.

The PM has promised that around 13million of the most vulnerable Britons will be vaccinated by mid-February.

The aim is for everyone over the age of 50 to be offered a Covid jab by the end of April.

But doubts have been raised about the target with numbers standing at around 2.7million as of yesterday, and there are also calls for frontline workers such as teachers and police officers to be pushed up the priority list.

Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick today said her officers should be ‘properly recognised’ in the prioritisation list for vaccines as she warned her colleagues are ‘not immune to the virus’.

The latest ambitious timetable means vaccinating 32million Britons – six in ten adults – within 16 weeks. Two million jabs will have to be given every week in the ‘greatest logistical challenge of our time’.

A 47-page masterplan published last night said the nation’s remaining adults – another 21million – would be inoculated by autumn.

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The PM has promised that around 13million of the most vulnerable Britons will be vaccinated by mid-February.

The aim is for everyone over the age of 50 to be offered a Covid jab by the end of April.

But doubts have been raised about the target with numbers standing at around 2.7million as of yesterday, and there are also calls for frontline workers such as teachers and police officers to be pushed up the priority list.

Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick today said her officers should be ‘properly recognised’ in the prioritisation list for vaccines as she warned her colleagues are ‘not immune to the virus’.

The latest ambitious timetable means vaccinating 32million Britons – six in ten adults – within 16 weeks. Two million jabs will have to be given every week in the ‘greatest logistical challenge of our time’.

A 47-page masterplan published last night said the nation’s remaining adults – another 21million – would be inoculated by autumn.

The Daily Mail has been told that Leading members of the Sage scientific advisory panel want the one-metre plus rule raised to ‘two metres plus’.

In practice this would change the limit to three metres – nearly 10ft. The drastic proposal emerged 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.’ 

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.

In a round of interviews this morning policing minister Kit Malthouse risked muddying the message by saying a 70-mile cycle ride would count as 'staying local' under the lockdown rules

In a round of interviews this morning policing minister Kit Malthouse risked muddying the message by saying a 70-mile cycle ride would count as 'staying local' under the lockdown rules

In a round of interviews this morning policing minister Kit Malthouse risked muddying the message by saying a 70-mile cycle ride would count as ‘staying local’ under the lockdown rules

What are the government’s rules on taking exercise? 

You should minimise time spent outside your home, but you can leave your home to exercise. 

This should be limited to once per day, and you should not travel outside your local area.

You can exercise in a public outdoor place:

  • by yourself
  • with the people you live with
  • with your support bubble (if you are legally permitted to form one)
  • in a childcare bubble where providing childcare
  • or, when on your own, with one person from another household

This includes but is not limited to running, cycling, walking, and swimming. 

Personal training can continue one-on-one unless everyone is within the same household or support bubble.

Public outdoor places include:

  • parks, beaches, countryside accessible to the public, forests
  • public gardens (whether or not you pay to enter them)
  • the grounds of a heritage site
  • playgrounds
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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.

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.

Mr Johnson faced a backlash for cycling with his security detail in the Olympic Park over the weekend - seven miles from Downing Street

Mr Johnson faced a backlash for cycling with his security detail in the Olympic Park over the weekend - seven miles from Downing Street

Mr Johnson faced a backlash for cycling with his security detail in the Olympic Park over the weekend – seven miles from Downing Street

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.

A source told the Evening Standard that Mr Johnson was exercising, accompanied by his security detail. 

Extraordinarily the premier is said to have ‘noted how busy’ the park was and remarked on it at a meeting later.

Official Government guidance says exercise should be limited to once a day and ‘you should not travel outside your local area’. 

Two women were fined £200 each by Derbyshire Police for driving five miles from their home for a walk, while in Whitby officers have slammed people for going sledging.

A witness said: ‘He was leisurely cycling with another guy with a beanie hat and chatting while around four security guys, possibly more, cycled behind them.

‘When I realised the person looked like Boris I cycled past them to hear his voice and be sure it’s him. It was definitely Boris.

‘Considering the current situation with Covid I was shocked to see him cycling around looking so care free,’ added the woman, who asked not to be named.

Also considering he’s advising everyone to stay at home and not leave their area, shouldn’t he stay in Westminster and not travel to other boroughs?’

The PM’s spokesman was unable to give any information yesterday on why Mr Johnson had gone to Stratford and why it was within the rules.  

It is also not clear whether Mr Johnson was driven to the park with his bike, or cycled the whole way there and back. 

Lib Dem MP Tim Farron said: ‘Government guidance on travelling to exercise is as clear as mud. 

‘People are travelling hundreds of miles to the Lake District while others are afraid to drive 5 minutes to the local park. 

‘I’ve written to the Prime Minister, asking him to set out clear guidance once and for all.’

In a video shared to the PM’s official Twitter account yesterday evening – which features footage of Mr Johnson’s visit to Bristol on Monday- the PM heaped praise on the Government’s vaccine programme.

But he warned Britons that it should not lead to complacency, as the new Covid variant is still spreading rapidly. 

Mr Johnson said: ‘Hi folks. I am here at this amazing Bristol mass-vaccination centre in a football stadium and it’s one of the 50 that we are going to be rolling out by the end of the month to help all the 1,000-plus GP surgeries, the 233 hospital sites, plus the 200 pharmacies.

‘And that’s, of course, just a start that we’re using to dispense the vaccine.

‘As I speak to you this morning I think we’ve done about 2.4 million jabs, 2 million people in the country already who have been vaccinated, and we will be massively ramping that up in the course of the next few weeks as we get up to, we hope, 15 million by the middle of February.

‘And that’s a very ambitious programme, we’re confident we can do it. 

‘But, as we get the jabs into people, it’s incredibly important that we don’t lose focus on the pandemic that is still, alas, surging in so many parts of the country, still filling our hospitals with Covid patients, still causing huge, huge problems for our NHS.

‘So everybody has got to follow the guidance. Stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.’

Along with his video, the PM tweeted: ‘As we get jabs into arms, we must not lose sight of the state of the pandemic – which is putting huge pressure on our NHS. 

‘So, please follow the rules and stay home to protect the NHS, and save lives.’   

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