The Government has drawn up plans for an October “firebreak” Covid lockdown should hospitalisations continue at their current level and threaten to overload the NHS, a senior Government scientist has reported. When Mr Johnson announced the UK’s second lockdown on 31 October last year, there were 16,479 Covid infections and 1,461 hospitalisations, but current daily figures are almost double at 42,192 infections.
Hospitalisations, however, are lower at 988 on 31 August, showing that the vaccine roll-out is preventing serious illness.
According to the Government source, the Prime Minister has prepared a contingency plan to extend the school half term period from one to two weeks, re-introduce mask wearing and social distancing inside public spaces and on transport, as well as tightening travel restrictions.
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The Sage source said: “This is essentially the precautionary break that Sage suggested last year.
“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.
“We are going to be at a peak, albeit an extended peak, quite soon, so it’s not really the same situation as last year, when failure to reduce prevalence would have resulted in collapse of NHS and people dying in car parks.
“Hospitals might be overflowing before deaths reach the same level.
“Acting early will prevent this level.”
Over the weekend, the Government confirmed it intends to push ahead with Covid passports for entry into mass events and nightclubs.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said vaccine passports will be the “best way” to avoid having to re-impose coronavirus restrictions in the winter.
When pressed on whether a “firebreak” lockdown has been planned, Mr Zahawi did not respond directly and instead said “the booster programme is his “absolute priority” as it will “absolutely help us to transition the virus from pandemic to endemic status”.
Another policy advisor said the Government will have to “seriously consider” another lockdown if the current trajectory of hospital admissions continues throughout September.
They remarked: “If you look at the current trends, hospitalisations are on a path to match the levels seen at the end of October last year.”
READ MORE: October lockdown: What October ‘firebreak’ would mean – rules, dates
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They said that deaths from Covid “are unlikely to hit the levels as seen last autumn because the vaccines are doing their job”, but instead worried that “the admissions that will push the NHS to the brink of collapse if they do not fall soon”.
The source added: “On top of that we have an expected resurgence in hospitalisations for other respiratory illnesses like flu. If the current high levels of admissions for Covid continue the NHS will not be able to cope, so a firebreak lockdown is by no means out of the question.”
While the Government said it was not “planning a lockdown or firebreak around the October half term”, a spokesman added that it “retains contingency plans as part of responsible planning for a range of scenarios, but such measures would only be re-introduced as a last resort to prevent unsustainable pressure on the NHS.”
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