BORIS Johnson hasn’t ruled out bringing back some form of lockdown to tackle a new Covid wave this winter.
No 10 insists restrictions would only be reintroduced as a “last resort” to stop the NHS becoming overwhelmed.
And it says the most likely cause of that would be a “dangerous” new variant that can get around the jab.
But vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi today refused to deny there are contingency plans for a “firebreak” lockdown in October.
There are concerns amongst scientists that the return of schools will lead to soaring case rates.
They are also worried the health service will come under intense strain if a new Covid spike coincides with the winter flu season.
No 10 guidance says the Government “may need to take measures to help manage the virus during periods of higher risk, such as winter”.
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But it says ministers “will as far as possible seek to avoid imposing restrictions that have significant economic, social and health costs”.
The dossier says they will favour mass testing, outbreak management, and deployment of booster shots over another full shutdown.
But it adds: “The Government will maintain contingency plans for reimposing economic and social restrictions at a local, regional or national level if evidence suggests they are necessary to suppress or manage a dangerous variant.
“Such measures would only be re-introduced as a last resort to prevent unsustainable pressure on the NHS.”
What measures could Boris Johnson take to tackle a Covid surge this winter?
‘Fire break’ lockdown
A senior Sage scientist has claimed the Government is already preparing for a so-called “fire break” lockdown in October to keep the virus under control.
The move would be a rehash of last year’s plan for a circuit breaker in the Autumn, which was eventually scrapped in favour of a full lockdown.
It would be a two-week period during which schools would be closed and restrictions like masks and social distancing reintroduced.
That could include everything from limits on large gatherings to caps on the number of people who can meet up indoors again.
A fire break would likely be introduced in mid-October when kids are on half-term, so they only miss one week of classroom learning.
Longer school hols
If a new Covid outbreak is raging around Christmas time, ministers could decide to prolong the school holidays to help control the spread.
Ministers have previously mulled the idea of adding an extra week to the festive break to cut transmission chains amongst kids.
Other countries including France and the US have previously considered similar plans to give children longer off if cases are too high.
Bringing back masks
One of the more likely but controversial actions the PM could take would be to reintroduce the requirement to wear masks in public places.
Some scientists opposed No 10’s move to ditch all rules on face coverings after Freedom Day and may urge him to bring them back.
Such a move would see the legal obligation to cover up reactivated on public transport and in pubs, restaurants, and shops.
Similarly if necessary Boris could bring back familiar rules from previous lockdowns on social distancing.
While it is thought new stay at home orders are incredibly unlikely there could be limits on how many people can mix.
It is most likely that such caps would cover mass events, although they could also be reintroduced for pubs and restaurants.
Under previous restrictions there was also the Rule of Six which governed how many people could meet up in each other’s homes.
The most severe option the PM could opt for, which is also seen as the most unlikely, would be to reimpose a full lockdown.
That would see people ordered to stay at home and all non-essential settings closed, as happened last winter.
Ministers have stressed that the chances of needing to take such action is very remote thanks to the success of the vaccine programme.
No 10 has already announced plans for mandatory vaccine passports at nightclubs and mass events such as football games.
But if the number of cases starts to rise it could choose to extend them to other settings like pubs and restaurants.
That would mirror the approach already taken in some other countries including France and Italy.
As well as curbing cases ministers hope it would have the added effect of encouraging the young to come forward for jabs.
Mr Zahawi said ministers hope the rollout of the booster jab programme will prevent the need for new restrictions.
He insisted it will provide a “one-way road towards sustaining the opening of the economy” but only “if we do that well”.
So far scientists have only signed off on top up shots for the most clinically vulnerable.
They JCVI is waiting for the results of a trial on mixing and matching different vaccines before green lighting them for all over 50s.
Other countries like France, Italy, and the US have already started administering third jabs.
Israel has led the way, offering all its citizens another shot in a bid to bring the Delta variant under control.