October firebreak lockdown? Minister says no plans for it but all contingencies considered

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said he had not seen plans for a firebreak lockdown. Credit: PA

The vaccines minister has told ITV News there are no plans for an October firebreak lockdown but he did say the government is looking at "all kinds of contingencies".

Nadhim Zahawi's comments come after the i newspaper reported an unnamed member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) saying a "precautionary break" could be part of "contingency plans" designed to cut coronavirus infections.

Asked about the reports, Mr Zahawi said "we have to plan for contingencies", however he added he hadn't "seen that option" considered by government.

He said his focus is on the forthcoming booster jab scheme, which is expected to rollout this month to the UK's most vulnerable to coronavirus after evidence showed immunity wanes after around six months following a second vaccine dose.

Is the government considering a firebreak lockdown? Vaccines minister responds

" It's the best way that we transition this virus from pandemic to endemic stages and I hope we'll be one of the first major economies to demonstrate how you do that, but of course we have to plan for contingencies," he said.

"At the moment the vaccines have allowed us to save 100,000 lives, millions of infections didn't happen because of the vaccination programme, of course hospitalisation as well, but we always have to make sure that we plan for all outcomes."

Asked if that meant the a firebreak lockdown was on the table for autumn, Mr Zahawi said: "No, I haven't seen that option and I think that it would be wrong for me to say that."

A Sage adviser told the i newspaper that the UK is about to enter a “an extended peak” of coronavirus cases, with children across the country now back in school classrooms.

A firebreak lockdown, the newspaper reports, could see an extension of the half-term, from one week to two weeks from late October to early November.

“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," the government scientist said.

“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,” he added. 

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

Meanwhile, the government has announced £5.4 billion additional cash for the NHS over the next six months to support its Covid response and help tackle growing waiting lists, which have been made worse by the pandemic.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “The NHS was there for us during the pandemic - but treating Covid patients has created huge backlogs. 

“This funding will go straight to the frontline, to provide more patients with the treatments they need but aren’t getting quickly enough.

“We will continue to make sure our NHS has what it needs to bust the Covid backlogs and help the health service build back better from the worst pandemic in a century.”