Lockdown restrictions are continuing to ease around the UK, but concerns remain over the spread of the Indian Covid variant.
Ministers are now considering contingency plans for local lockdowns - or a delay to the end of social restrictions on 21 June - in response to the growing concerns, reports The Times.
Potential reintroduction of tier system
The Indian variant is now the dominant strain of coronavirus in Bolton and Blackburn. 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).
Officials are said to have drawn up plans modelled on last year’s Tier 4 restrictions, which could see people advised to stay at home and the closure of non-essential shops and hospitality, if the new strain was not brought under control.
Businesses in areas placed under these restrictions would receive grants of up to £18,000, and the scheme would be administered by local authorities. Payments would also be adjusted according to the length of restrictions.
Alternatively, if the date of 21 June for the end of all lockdown restrictions is delayed, grants are expected to be made available for the worst-affected sectors, such as nightclubs.
‘We can’t rule out that we would put in place certain local lockdowns’
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Monday (17 May) that although the reintroduction of local lockdowns “is not where we want to go,” the Government is not ruling it out.
Cabinet minister George Eustice also told Times Radio that local restrictions remained a possibility.
He said: “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.
“At the moment we are doing a lot of intensive surveillance in those areas, with surge testing to identify it and deal with it.”
Professor Gabriel Scally, a member of Independent Sage and a leading public health expert, told Sky News that local restrictions could get the variant under control, but added that “hopefully we will be doing much more than just putting on restrictions.”
Prof Scally said: “Sometimes it seems we’re like a one-trick pony, the only thing we know is shutting things down, and that’s bad for people’s health, it’s bad for the economy, and it’s a bad way to tackle an infectious disease.
“We do need outbreak control, and that’s a whole range of measures, and that includes simple things like improving the ventilation, actually putting some resources into paying for better ventilation in our schools, in our workplaces, ensuring people have fresh air and can stay safe.”