BRITAIN could face another lockdown in October if Covid cases surge again, a minister suggested today.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi refused to rule out the return of some restrictions during the Autumn half-term to get the virus under control.
But he expressed hopes a successful booster jabs campaign will help the UK avoid a full shutdown which would be “the worst thing we can do”.
He said that will mean the country can “continue, I hope, on a one-way street of keeping the economy open without having to regress into other non-pharmaceutical interventions.”
A government spokesman confirmed there are “contingency plans” in place but insisted they “would only be re-introduced as a last resort to prevent unsustainable pressure on the NHS”.
He added “it is not true” to suggest that ministers are actively “planning a lockdown or firebreak around the October half term”.
A senior Sage scientist has said the Government is already preparing for a mini “firebreak” lockdown if hospital admissions spiral.
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It would see schools close for an extra week at October half-term, with mask wearing and social distancing brought back in public places.
Travel restrictions could also be reimposed, although it is not thought a full shutdown and stay at home orders would be necessary.
Mr Zahawi insisted he hadn’t personally seen any plans for the return of restrictions in October.
He said: “I don’t want to adjust the half-term or go back to any form of lockdowns, because that’s the worst thing we can do to the economy.
“I am absolutely focused on making sure we don’t have to reverse all the great gains we’ve made on reopening the economy.”
But he admitted there is “upward pressure on infections” because “we’ve reopened the economy to pretty much as close to normal as you can get”.
The vaccines minister said rolling out the booster jab programme to the most vulnerable ahead of winter is “my absolute priority”.
He said: “If we do that well we can continue on this one way road towards sustaining the opening of the economy, and by next year hopefully transitioning this virus from pandemic to endemic and dealing with it on an annual basis.”
Asked about the prospect of schools closing, he added: “We want to make sure they stay open and the way you do that is by protecting the most vulnerable.”
An anonymous scientist advising the Government told the i newspaper the UK is about to enter “an extended peak” of infections and hospitalisations.
He said plans for a “precautionary break” have already been drawn up in case the NHS is at risk of being overwhelmed.
“It would be sensible to have contingency plans, and if a lockdown is required, to time it so that it has minimal economic and societal impact.
“Hospitals might be overflowing before deaths reach the same level. Acting early will prevent this level.”
I am absolutely focused on making sure we don’t have to reverse all the great gains we’ve made on reopening the economy
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi
But the scientist said the vaccination rollout means this winter is unlikely to be anywhere near as bad as last year.
He added: “It’s not really the same situation as last year, when failure to reduce prevalence would have resulted in collapse of NHS and people dying in car parks.”
Similar plans were drawn up for a circuit-breaker lockdown to curb rising transmissions in October last year.
But it had to be abandoned in favour of a full-blown lockdown as spiralling cases of the Kent variant threatened to overwhelm the NHS.
The PM’s spokesman would only say: “With regards to what comes next we need to carefully monitor the situation.
“As a responsible government, we retain the ability to take further steps if necessary but it is thanks to significant defences of vaccination programme that we are able to be one of the most open societies in Europe.
“And we will continue to push forward with vaccination programmes and that remains the case.”