Sources within Whitehall today confirmed the government is prepared for ‘local, regional or national’ lockdowns in order to protect the health service from being swamped and reaching breaking point with cases.
The i reports the Prime Minister has given the green light to plans for ‘firebreak lockdowns’ should Covid cases cripple the NHS later this year.
Although scientists remain confident of the efficacy of Britain’s vaccines, Whitehall sources say fears persist over surging flu infections, a potential NHS staffing crisis and a rise in positive infections.
The senior Downing Street source told i: ‘The Government believes it has got to grips with the pandemic following the vaccine rollout
‘Barring a new vaccine-beating strain, fears over a rise in infections similar to that seen last autumn are actually outweighed by other issues like an NHS staffing crisis and the likely resurgence in flu infections, and other respiratory diseases.
‘On top of Covid infections, these factors could tip the NHS back to the brink and force more lockdowns.’
Boris Johnson (above) has authorised contingency plans for ‘firebreak lockdowns’ if the NHS is again overwhelmed with Covid cases during the winter months
It is understood that any subsequent lockdown would resemble the nation’s four-week ‘firebreak’ lockdown during November 2020.
The return of draconian restrictions would likely be short and during ‘school holidays and over Christmas’, the source adds.
Even the government’s most cautious scientific advisors now appear to be turning against the prospect of strict restrictions being reimposed on our lives.
Several outspoken scientists, including Neil Ferguson – once dubbed Professor Lockdown – have argued that lockdowns are unlikely to be needed in the future.
Speaking in the Times, Professor Ferguson said he thought it would be ‘unlikely’ the UK would return to a lockdown, unless a deadly new variant was discovered.
He said: ‘I suspect we won’t have to [return to lockdown].
‘The pinch point has always been pressure on the NHS, and though it will be awkward for the NHS, so there will be pressure, I very much doubt they won’t be able to cope.’
Several prominent scientists, including Neil Ferguson (above) – once dubbed Professor Lockdown – have argued that lockdowns are unlikely to be needed in the future
The news comes as stats show Britain’s Covid outbreak is still flattening off, according to official statistics that dismissed hopes that the worst of the third wave was over.
Department of Health bosses posted another 31,808 cases on Friday, up 7 per cent on the 29,622 recorded last week.
The number of victims dying with the virus – a measure which lags weeks behind infections – also increased by 35.3 per cent, jumping from 71 last week to 92.
But hospital admissions, which always turn before fatalities, continue to fall. There were 778 people hospitalised with Covid on Monday, down 16.2 per cent on the previous week.
The figures come as leading scientists warn achieving herd immunity against Covid is looking ever-increasingly impossible, with neither vaccines nor natural infections triggering ‘perfect’ protection.
Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious diseases expert at the University of East Anglia, said immunity against SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes Covid – is likely to be short-lived.
But separate official data offered a glimmer of hope, revealing England’s shrinking Covid outbreak towards the end of July was real and marked the first time cases had genuinely fallen since the third wave took off.
Office for National Statistics (ONS) data released today shows the number of people infected with the virus fell from 856,200 to 722,300 in the week ending July 31
No10’s top scientists claimed the R rate — which shows how quickly the coronavirus is spreading — has dipped below one for the first time in 12 weeks. The UK Health Security Agency said the reproduction rate is between 0.8 and 1.1. For comparison, last week’s figure stood at between 1.1 and 1.4.
Meanwhile, random swab-testing data — used by ministers to keep tabs on the size of the outbreak — estimated the number of infected people has also dropped for the first time since May.
Britain’s total infections have now risen up to 6,014,023, while 130,178 people who have tested positive have lost their life to the virus since the start of the pandemic.
Just under 47million adults in Britain (88.8 per cent) have now had a jab after another 35,500 first doses were dished out yesterday.
And 39million (73.8 per cent) are fully protected after NHS staff and volunteers put 172,692 second doses into people’s arms.