It has been reported that the government may consider a two-week “firebreak lockdown” as early as October if the current spike in Covid hospitalisations continues to grow.
The Government has been secretly drawing up plans for possible restrictions during the school half-term, according to a report in The i.
A member of Sage told the newspaper the UK is set to enter “an extended peak” of infections and hospitalisations, with the overriding concern again being that the health service faces being overwhelmed.
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A full lockdown, which would see the October half-term break extended into November, would be a last resort and advisers may instead suggest other restrictions as an alternative.
“This is essentially the precautionary break that Sage suggested last year,” the Sage source told the paper.
“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.”
Some 43.4m people have been given both doses of the Covid vaccine, the Government has said, but hospitalisations have remained consistently over 900-a-day in recent days reports the MirrorOnline.
Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi has said that if the UK’s chief medical officers approve it, the Government is prepared to begin giving jabs to 12 to 15-year-olds.
Amid fears winter flu cases could compound the pressure on the NHS, he said vaccine boosters may be handed out at the same time as flu jabs.
While the SAGE source accepted deaths were still lower than 12 months ago, tough curbs imposed earlier could be vital given the number of hospitalisations was last week at its highest level since March.
Meanwhile, cases in Scotland have begun to surge with some experts pointing to the earlier return of schools north of the border.
They added: “Hospitals might be overflowing before deaths reach the same level. Acting early will prevent this level.”
It is understood that the Government’s contingency plan for a “firebreak” lockdown could lead to an extension of the half-term, from one week for most schools to two weeks from late October into early November, the paper reported.
But the Government has denied the reports, with a spokesman telling the Mirror: “It is not true that the Government is planning a lockdown or firebreak around the October half term.
“As set out in July, the Government retains contingency plans as part of responsible planning for a range of scenarios, but such measures would only be re-introduced as a last resort to prevent unsustainable pressure on the NHS.”
Boris Johnson is also said to be ready to re-introduce mask wearing and social distancing curbs in public spaces and on transport. There is also a possibility that travel restrictions could return.
The Government scientist added: “If it is a proper contingency plan, then you do need to plan for it. And to have some threshold or trigger for enacting or calling it off.”
When the Prime Minister backed a second lockdown in England on October 31 last year, there were 16,479 Covid infections and 1,461 hospitalisations. The latest figures show infections are almost double at 42,192, while there were 988 hospitalisations on 31 August.
“If you look at the current trends, hospitalisations are on a path to match the levels seen at the end of October last year,” another Government source said.
“While deaths are high compared to last year and are unlikely to hit the levels as seen last autumn because the vaccines are doing their job, it is the admissions that will push the NHS to the brink of collapse if they do not fall soon.
“On top of that we have an expected resurgence in hospitalisations for other respiratory illnesses like flu. If the current high levels of admissions for Covid continue the NHS will not be able to cope, so a firebreak lockdown is by no means out of the question.”
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Zahawi told MPs on Monday that it “is vital that we continue to plug the gaps in our defences and widen and deepen our wall of defence”.
He said: “The latest data from Public Health England estimates that our jabs have prevented over 100,000 deaths, over 143,000 hospitalisations and around 24 million infections. Across the UK we have administered over 91 million vaccines, 88.8% of people over 16 have had their first dose and 79.8% have had their second dose.
“Our jabs are building a vast wall of defence for the British people, but this vital work is not yet complete. With the Delta variant sweeping around the world, we have seen how it thrives on pockets of unvaccinated people.
“Last week across the UK we saw an average 34,000 new cases and 938 hospitalisations each day, so it is vital that we continue to plug the gaps in our defences and widen and deepen our wall of defence.”
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