Government could reintroduce Covid restrictions in England if infections soar, says minister

Admission comes as Prof Chris Whitty warns hospitalisations could hit ‘scary numbers’

Adam Forrest
Friday 16 July 2021 10:05
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Government could reintroduce Covid restrictions in England, says minister

Boris Johnson’s government could consider reimplementing Covid restrictions in England if the spread of the virus becomes “unacceptable”, according to a senior minister.

The comment comes despite the prime minister regularly stating he wanted the removal of legal measures on 19 July to be “irreversible”.

Tory MP Lucy Frazer, the government’s solicitor general, told Sky News the government was well aware that “we will see infections rise” this summer.

“The reason why restrictions are being taken away is because of the vaccination programme, which will protect people when those infections do rise.”

Ms Frazer added: “Of course, if we get into a situation where it is unacceptable and we do need to put back further restrictions, then that of course is something the government will look at.”

It follows a warning from Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, that the number of people in hospital with Covid is currently doubling about every three weeks and could reach “quite scary numbers” soon.

Speaking at a webinar hosted by the Science Museum on Thursday evening, Prof Whitty said: “I don’t think we should underestimate the fact that we could get into trouble again surprisingly fast.”

Prof Whitty said he hoped the public would “take things incredibly slowly” despite the end of legal restrictions on 19 July. He was speaking after UK Covid case numbers jumped to almost 50,000 in just 24 hours.

Ministers are facing growing criticism over “confused” guidance given to shoppers, businesses and commuters over the wearing of masks from 19 July. The government said it “expects” people in England to wear a face covering in enclosed spaces, despite ditching the legal requirements.

England’s regional mayors have urged ministers to keep masks compulsory across all public transport services to avoid a “ridiculous mismatch” of rules from the beginning of next week.

Mr Johnson is said to have gotten “cold feet” over the end of legal restrictions in recent days, but decided it was “too late” to reverse his decision to go ahead with step four of the roadmap, according to The Spectator.

Defending the government’s decision to lift remaining curbs from Monday, Ms Frazer said: “We’ve had a really tough time, we’re still asking people to take responsibility and we do need to ask ourselves, if we don’t open up now, when will we be able to open up?”

Millions of people are expected to be ‘pinged’ by the Covid app in weeks ahead

Questions continue to be raised about the NHS Covid app which is reportedly telling neighbours to self-isolate after “pinging” people through walls.

It comes after more than 500,000 alerts were sent through the app last week – the highest number so far – raising fears of a “pingdemic”. Unions have warned that factories struggling with serious staff shortages could be forced to close within days.

Ms Frazer claimed the app remained an “important self-isolation tool” and said there were no plans to bring forward planned changes to self-isolation rules – allowing the fully-vaccinated to avoid quarantine –from 16 August.

Referring to plans to look at the sensitivity of the app, the minister said: “The government is looking at this very carefully, recognising the impact it is having on businesses.”

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