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Covid: Minister doesn’t rule out winter lockdown after PHE expert says ‘we may have to’ reimpose measure

·3-min read
Dr Susan Hopkins, director for Covid-19 at Public Health England, has said further lockdowns could be necessary this winter (BBC/The Andrew Marr Show)
Dr Susan Hopkins, director for Covid-19 at Public Health England, has said further lockdowns could be necessary this winter (BBC/The Andrew Marr Show)

A cabinet minister has refused to rule out another Covid-19 lockdown this winter after Dr Susan Hopkins said it could be necessary to control the virus.

Boris Johnson has promised an “irreversible” end to Covid-19 restrictions — a move that was due to take place on Monday but is now delayed until 19 July amid a surge in cases.

But Dr Hopkins, the director for Covid-19 at Public Health England, said Britain needed to move to a situation where we can “live with this” in the longer term.

She told The Andrew Marr Show: “I think that means that we wouldn't normally put people into lockdown for severe cases of influenza.

“We may have to do further lockdowns this winter, I can't predict the future – it really depends on whether the hospitals start to become overwhelmed at some point.

“But I think we will have alternative ways to manage this through vaccination, through antivirals, through drugs, through testing, that we didn't have last winter, and all of those things allow us different approaches, rather than restrictions on lives and restrictions on livelihoods, that will move us forward into the next phase of learning to live with this as an endemic, as something that happens as part of the respiratory viruses.”

Asked about her comments, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland declined to rule out more restrictions, telling Times Radio: “The essence of the virus is you can't ever say mission accomplished".

Dr Hopkins, who is a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said there had been “rises and falls” in coronavirus cases across the country, with the virus having “definitely reversed” in Bolton and “stabilised” in Blackburn with Darwen but continuing to “rise quite fast” in London and the northeast.

The scientist appeared to suggest it was unlikely remaining social-distancing measures would be lifted in England sooner than the earmarked 19 July date.

“My strong opinion is the longer we just take our time and get through this period to get the maximum amount of people vaccinated is a positive thing for this summer and to get us through this winter,” she said.

“So my view would be to keep going, that we can live at this level and then that would mean hopefully when we come out of this level of restrictions, which are much easier to live with I think for many of us, then we would be able to get on and get back to normal and stay back to normal for a very prolonged period.”

She also suggested people should opt for a staycation over a holiday abroad this summer, but offered some hope for the future.

“I think we should be predominantly deciding to holiday at home this summer while we get all of our population vaccinated – but I think we are moving step wise closer to being able to renew our lives and move around to other countries and to change the way we manage to live with this virus,” she told the programme.

The UK recorded more than 10,000 new coronavirus cases for the third day in a row on Saturday, while the death toll from the virus rose to 127,970 after a further 14 fatalities.

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