Nationwide restrictions and “very extensive” local lockdowns could be introduced in England this winter in the event of a second wave of coronavirus, the health secretary has warned.
Matt Hancock also said social-distancing measures would remain in place for the “foreseeable” future, with grandchildren unable to hug their grandparents at Christmas unless a vaccine is approved.
Speaking to the Times, he said a second wave of Covid-19 is “a very serious threat” which has already been witnessed in other parts of the world.
“But so far in the UK we are managing to keep the number of new cases flat through a combination of test and trace and local lockdowns,” Hancock said.
“This is the reasonable worst-case scenario, that we have a bad flu and a growth in coronavirus as people spend more time indoors. Cases go up again, and we have to use very extensive local lockdowns or take further national action. We don’t rule that out but we don’t want to see it.”
Hancock’s comments come as restrictions for more than 1 million people in north-west England were due to be eased, following a drop in coronavirus cases.
Restrictions on seeing friends and family will be lifted from next week in the Greater Manchester boroughs of Bolton, Stockport and Trafford, as well as Burnley and Hyndburn in Lancashire.
People in parts of Bradford, Calderdale and Kirklees in West Yorkshire will be able to mix with other households from Wednesday, but the measures will remain in place in large parts of Bradford as well as Halifax, Dewsbury and Batley.
Following Hancock’s warning of potentially severe local lockdowns in winter, Greater Manchester’s mayor, Andy Burnham, urged the government to stop imposing decisions “from London” without negotiating with local leaders.
Burnham spoke of how the government “overruled” local authorities in Greater Manchester and Bradford, splitting up communities by keeping some under restrictions and not others.
“You then have the situation where some people on one half of the street are under restrictions and others not,” Burnham told BBC Breakfast.
“Imposition of decisions like this without agreement or negotiation is absolutely the wrong way to go. With the health secretary warning today of extensive lockdowns throughout the rest of this year, I think communities everywhere should be worried.
“This has to be partnership between national and local government.”
Burnham added that the role government has given to MPs in relation to local lockdown meant that “political considerations” were being brought into play.
“We need a much better process for agreeing these things,” he said. “These decisions should be driven by public health alone, not politics.”
Meanwhile, the Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood has said “draconian action” could be needed if the public do not stick to social distancing rules, hinting that the government could take stronger action than local lockdowns.
He told Times Radio: “If the nation, if individuals aren’t following the rules then ultimately … we cannot break the chain of spread and therefore draconian action is required to take place.
“We’d prefer it to be local but absolutely, if that R-rating does go too high, this is a warning for every single listener: ensure that you do socially distance so we can actually contain it.
“This is an enduring emergency, I repeat. Until there’s a vaccine this is the new normal that we’ve got to get used to.”
Source: The Guardian