© Provided by The iHome Secretary Priti Patel during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (Photo: PA)
Priti Patel insisted tougher Covid-19 restrictions will not be introduced "today or tomorrow" but left the door open for tighter rules to be brought in next week.
Ministers are actively considering further strengthening measures but have been encouraged by early signs that the current lockdown rules are having an impact on Covid cases.
With the NHS under extraordinary pressures, there are concerns that the current restrictions may not be enough to bring the infection rate under control, particularly with the highly-transmissible new variant.
Enforce the rules
Downing Street is understood to be considering plans to require masks be worn outdoors and scrapping the rule that allows two people from different households to meet for exercise.
Ms Patel stressed the focus was on pushing the stay at home message currently in place.
Asked whether further restrictions could include a three-metre social distancing rule, or the requirement to wear masks outside, she told ITV's This Morning: "The plans are very much to enforce the rules.
"This isn't about new rules coming in - we're going to stick with enforcing the current measures." © Provided by The iPolice are enforcing the new Covid-19 rules more strictly (Photo: Andrew Milligan/PA)
But she did not rule out new measures being announced next week, limiting her comments to: "We are not thinking about bringing in new measures today or tomorrow."
Boris Johnson told MPs this week that he would not rule out bringing in tougher measures if necessary, but he added that the current rules were "starting to show signs of some effect". No 10 is now expected to wait to see whether infection rates continue to fall before taking any further action.
It comes as No 10 was forced to slap down the Home Secretary after she incorrectly claimed people could only exercise alone, the second time in a week the minister had been mistaken over the existing lockdown rules.
Asked whether the rules were clear, Ms Patel said: "The clarity is exercising on your own and not socialising."
She added: "The point to make about any exercise - yes, it should be local, people exercise differently. But exercise on your own and don't use it for a social meeting."
The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "We've been clear that if people exercise they can do so with one other person from another household but we're asking them to socially distance while they're doing that."
On Tuesday Ms Patel claimed people could leave the home for outdoor recreation, which is not among the five legal reasons for going outside.