BORIS Johnson is “ruling nothing out” to halt the Indian super-strain spreading across Britain – and has many levers he could pull.
Vaccines are the main firepower in the Government’s fight against Covid but the PM also has some draconian weapons in his arsenal.
Experts fear the Indian variant is up to 60 per cent more transmissible meaning it can spread like wildfire.
Although there is currently no evidence to show the strain escapes our jabs, it is too soon to know for sure.
And while the freedom-loving PM will desperately want to avoid ripping up his roadmap all options are on the table.
From a targeted testing blitz to whack-a-mole local lockdowns, we consider the choices weighing on the PM as he plots the way forward.
The PM’s first port of call will likely be to drastically scale up testing in areas rife with cases.
So-called surge testing is already being rolled out in Bolton, Blackburn and parts of London where the variant is spreading.
England’s testing capacity has ballooned in recent months and there are now plenty of swabs to carry out such a blitz.
Surge vaccinations could also follow to break the link between infections and hospitalisations and deaths.
Officials in Blackburn yesterday suggested all over-18s would be called up for jabs – before this was quickly retracted.
The Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisation have recommended jabs should be given in order of age.
But Downing Street has said all options are on the table, and could easily blitz a hotspot with jabs or shorten the period between doses.
Brits will be familiar with the strategy of plunging areas into local lockdowns from the first wave last year.
Hotbeds such as Leicester, Liverpool and Manchester were slapped with tough restrictions before the whole country was carved into tiers.
Now it is Bolton, Blackburn and parts of London where the Indian variant is taking off and would be prime targets for “whack-a-mole” lockdowns.
Ministers have previously expressed they want all parts of England to emerge from lockdown together.
The PM will want to avoid local lockdowns – but will perhaps see it as a necessary evil if it saves the rest of the country from going into reverse.
However he’ll have a fight on his hands from regional leaders such as Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, who resisted lockdown last year and has already warned the PM against such action.
REDUCE INDOOR MIXING
Coronavirus finds it difficult to spread in the fresh air, which is why outdoor mixing has been allowed first.
But from Monday six people will be allowed to meet inside for the first time this year in a significant step forward on the path out of lockdown.
Thirsty Brits will finally be able to sink a pint in a pub indoors with their pals.
Yet the combination of drunk punters in enclosed spaces could spell disaster for social distancing.
It is the reason customers had to have a meal with their booze in some parts of the country last year.
Pubs reopening have become a totemic issue during the crisis and hard-up landlords will not thank the PM for calling last orders on indoor pints again.
Mr Johnson has said the roadmap remains on track and such action is highly unlikely.
But the Government’s form suggests closing pubs will always come ahead of schools, hairdressers, gyms and shops.
TIGHTEN FOREIGN TRAVEL
Lockdown-weary Brits aching for a post-pandemic holiday will be able to jet off from Monday.
But after taking a kicking early in the crisis for failing to secure the borders, ministers are keeping many restrictions in place.
The overwhelming majority of destinations require travellers to quarantine on their return and everyone needs to take a test.
Countries afflicted with the worst Covid outbreaks – such as India – are on the red list where travel is banned and returning Brits must quarantine in a hotel.
Such tough measures will hopefully insulate Britain from foreign transmission and again pulling the plug on holidays is unlikely.
But if the situation becomes bleak in the weeks ahead, perhaps the PM will try shutting the borders to keep the domestic roadmap on track.
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford is advising his citizens only to travel for essential reasons.