October firebreak lockdown ‘would only be last resort’ to save NHS, says government

It comes during a rise in coronavirus cases and hospitalisations in the UK

Rory Sullivan
Tuesday 07 September 2021 20:47 BST
<p>Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has denied reports of an October firebreak  </p>

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has denied reports of an October firebreak

Ministers have denied a report that they plan to impose a firebreak lockdown in October half term if coronavirus hospitalisations continue at their current rate.

It comes after a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said the contingency plan had been drawn up amid a recent rise in hospitalisations and infections.

The government’s scientific adviser told the i newspaper that the precaution could help ensure that the NHS is not overwhelmed by an “extended peak” of cases this autumn.

“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,” they said.

“Hospitals might be overflowing before deaths reach the same level. Acting early will prevent this level.”

However, a government spokesperson said “it is not true” that ministers were planning an October firebreak. They added that such restrictions would only be used “as a last resort to prevent unsustainable pressure on the NHS”.

In a similar vein, the vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said on Tuesday that he had not heard of the reported plan.

He told BBC Breakfast that the vaccination programme meant that severe measures like those taken last year were not necessary.

"It is through the booster programme that I hope...we can transition the virus from pandemic to endemic status and deal with it year in, year out,” he said.

Coronavirus cases in the UK have risen in recent weeks, with 263,885 cases reported in the seven days to 6 September and an average of 938 people hospitalised with Covid-19 each day last week.

Experts have suggested that the reopening of schools could lead to a higher number of infections.

Kevin McConway, professor of applied statistics at the Open University, said “the reopening might well increase the numbers who are infected, and if that feeds through into considerably more hospitalisations or more deaths, that would be particularly concerning”.

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