A Tory minister has been slapped down by Downing Street after he wrongly said Brits should only go food shopping once a week.
No10 confirmed Grant Shapps went beyond official guidance when he told people to “try and shop just once a week – just do the essentials, not everything else.”
Mr Shapps’ advice to shop only “once a week” does not exist either in official government guidance or in the law.
Government guidance says to go shopping for essentials “as infrequently as possible” but does not set a limit on the number of visits.
And the law – enforced by police – also sets no limit on the number of times you can go shopping for “basic necessities”. People are asked to use common sense.
Boris Johnson’s official spokesman was forced to clarify the situation today after people raised fears for those who cannot do a weekly shop without a car.
The spokesman said: “I think what the guidance says is that you should be shopping for basic necessities, for example food and medicine, which must be as infrequent as possible.”
Asked if it should be once a week, the spokesman said: “The guidance doesn’t specify that, no. The guidance says it should be as infrequent as possible.”
Asked what the Transport Secretary was doing, the spokesman said: “As I say, the guidance says shopping should be as infrequent as possible.
“For some people I’m sure their judgement will be that will be once a week, but it’s not what the guidance specifies.”
Mr Shapps made the comments this morning as police were accused of “over-reaching” with new powers to crack down on public gatherings.
Asked by BBC Breakfast if it was wrong for police to check people’s shopping he said: “I don’t know each individual circumstance.
“But people know the rules that have been set. Try and shop just once a week – just, you know, do the essentials not everything else.
“The police are somewhat caught in between this situation of being asked to ensure people stay home.
“As Lord Sumption [who warned of a “police state” ] said, I think the first thing is just to ask people politely.
“I think if people are refusing to go home or gathering in crowds or doing some other things, of course the powers are there.
“The vast majority of people are very willingly going along with this.”
But the No10 spokesman insisted guidance is “very clear”, adding: “There is a single government message, it’s in the guidance which we published last week.”
So what does government guidance actually say?
The government’s guidance – which is not the same as the law – says you should only leave the house for four limited purposes:
And what does the law say?
The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 introduced unprecedented restrictions on people’s movement last week.
The law allows police to issue £30 fixed penalty notices – rising to £120 for a second offence and £960 for a third.
However, the law is not worded in the same way as government guidance.
It has many provisions (it also forces shops to shut and bans gatherings of more than two, unless you’re in the same household).
But here’s what it says about going shopping…
The law says: “During the emergency period, no person may leave the place where they are living without reasonable excuse.”
Reasonable excuses include, but it appears are not limited to:
To obtain basic necessities, including food and medical supplies for those in the same household (including any pets or animals in the household) or for vulnerable persons
To take exercise either alone or with other members of their household;
To seek medical assistance
To provide care or assistance to a vulnerable person, or to provide emergency assistance
To donate blood
To travel for the purposes of work or to provide voluntary or charitable services, where it is not reasonably possible for that person to work from home
To attend a funeral of a member of the person’s household, a close family member, or if neither are attending, a friend
To fulfil a legal obligation, including attending court or satisfying bail conditions
To access critical public services, including childcare/school, social services, DWP services, victims of crime services
To allow children with shared custody to move between each parent’s house
For a minister of religion, to go to their place of worship
To move house where reasonably necessary
To avoid injury or illness or to escape a risk of harm.