Local lockdowns could be introduced in some parts of England if there is a surge in Covid infections, a cabinet minister has said.
Environment Secretary George Eustice told Times Radio that localised restrictions can’t be ruled out if there is “deterioration” in certain areas of the country.
His comments come as the Indian Covid variant continues to cause widespread concern among health officials and ministers.
Public health experts have said the new strain, known as B.1.617.2 and thought to be more transmissible than other variants, is expected to become the dominant one in the country within days.
So, could local lockdowns be introduced to curb the spread of the variant?
Here is everything you need to know.
Will there be local lockdowns in England?
Speaking on Tuesday (18 May), Mr Eustice said there was still a “clear roadmap out of lockdown” for England.
But the environment secretary said local lockdowns remain a possibility for some parts of the country in areas with high Covid rates.
“If we do have a deterioration in some of these areas, then of course we can’t rule out that we would put in place certain local lockdowns,” he said.
“At the moment we are doing a lot of intensive surveillance in those areas, with surge testing to identify it and deal with it.”
Ministers are reportedly drawing up contingency plans to reintroduce local lockdowns - similar to the tier system that was in place in England last year - to halt the spread of the new Indian strain.
And Boris Johnson said last week that he would “rule nothing out” when it comes to tackling the spread of B.1.617.2.
The Indian variant is now the dominant strain of coronavirus in Bolton and Blackburn, while it has also spread to 86 areas across the country, including some parts of London and Bedford.
The number of confirmed cases has risen by 76 per cent to 2,323 since last Thursday (13 May).
What could local lockdowns look like?
Officials have drawn up local lockdown plans based on the Tier 4 restrictions that were introduced last year, The Times reported on Monday (17 May).
In areas with a high prevalence of the Indian variant, people would be advised to stay at home, while non-essential shops and hospitality venues would close, the newspaper said.
Any businesses forced to close under local lockdown restrictions could receive grants of up to £18,000, with payment adjusted depending on how long the restrictions last.
Tier 4 was the strictest level of restrictions during the second half of 2020 and essentially saw areas of England placed in a full lockdown.
Will ‘step four’ of lockdown easing still go ahead on 21 June?
A Downing Street spokesperson said the potential spread of the Indian variant could cause “serious disruption” to plans to further ease coronavirus restrictions in summer.
Ministers are considering whether the final stage of the roadmap out of lockdown on 21 June, when it is hoped all social distancing restrictions will be lifted, should be delayed, according to The Times.
Under Mr Johnson’s roadmap, the remaining sectors of the economy - like nightclubs and festivals - are due to welcome back revellers on that date after more than a year of being closed.
But on Monday, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said Downing Street can’t yet say whether the easing will go ahead in June and ministers want to see as much data as possible before making a decision.
The government’s review into social distancing guidelines is also set to be delayed until next month due to the emergence of the Indian variant.
Ministers fear that the increase in cases of the new strain may make it more difficult to relax the guidance around physical distancing and wearing masks in crowded indoor spaces.
A Number 10 spokesman said the review would be published on 14 June, adding: “Our decision will be based on very latest data, and we want to allow as much time as possible to assess this, so we will set out plans as soon as the data allows.”