LOCKDOWN could return this winter if there’s a fresh Covid wave but will only be reimposed as an “absolutely last resort”.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi confirmed that “contingency plans” are in place to bring back restrictions if necessary.
He said it would be “foolhardy to rule out anything” given previous experiences of how quickly the virus can spread.
But he also expressed confidence the booster jab programme plus a massive flu vaccination drive will stave off another lockdown.
Boris Johnson is expected to strike a cautious note at a No 10 press conference this afternoon setting out his plan for the winter.
The PM will warn that the fight against Covid is “far from over” and urge Brits to remain vigilant against the virus.
He will warn some restrictions like mask wearing and working from home could return if a new surge threatens the NHS.
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Asked about that possibility today, Mr Zahawi said: “Lockdowns would be an absolutely last resort.
“We’re about to embark on a massive booster campaign and of course a flu vaccination programme.
“I am concerned about flu, we haven’t had much flu circulating anywhere in the world, and in a bad year we could lose up to 25,000 people to flu.
“The important thing to remember is that, as we embark on the winter months, viruses have an inbuilt advantage, whether it be flu or the Covid virus.
“It would be foolhardy to think this thing has already transitioned from pandemic to endemic.”
The vaccines minister said the UK is in a much better position to battle Covid than this time last year.
He pointed to the high number of people double-jabbed as well as a better test and trace system and improved “radar” to catch variants.
But he added: “Of course, we have to have contingency planning. All the time we have information coming in on how the virus is behaving.”
Ministers and scientists are worried the country faces a difficult winter that will once again put pressure on the NHS.
The virus will be able to spread more easily once bad weather drives people indoors, while vaccine immunity could be waning for some.
Covid rates have been stubbornly high at around 30,000 new infections a day for weeks – though the return of schools hasn’t yet shifted the dial.