Lockdown talk ‘completely unhelpful’, says cabinet minister who insists current approach ‘working’
Amid another surge in Covid cases, the NHS Confederation has urged ministers to implement the back-up strategy – including mandatory face coverings and asking people to work from home.
But business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the government was not interested in bringing back curbs. “We don’t want to go into lockdown or further restrictions,” he told Sky News on Wednesday.
The cabinet minister said discussions of more lockdowns or restrictions on holidays were “completely unhelpful” – but conceded the government would have to do better on the rollout of booster jabs.
The slow uptake of coronavirus booster jabs is “something that we really need to address”, Kwarteng said, urging those eligible to take up the offer of a third dose of the vaccine.
Kwarteng has admitted that the vaccine rollout to 12 to 15-year-olds also needs to pick up speed. “It is working, but we just need a faster rollout.”
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, has urged the government to implement the Plan B back-up strategy – including making face coverings compulsory in some settings, asking people to work from home, and bringing in vaccine passports.
“It is time for the government to enact Plan B of its strategy without delay because without pre-emptive action, we risk stumbling into a winter crisis,” said the leader of the membership organisation for NHS authorities and trusts.
Taylor added: “We are right on the edge – and it is the middle of October. It would require an incredible amount of luck for us not to find ourselves in the midst of a profound crisis over the next three months.”
Professor Stephen Reicher – a member of the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours, which feeds into the Sage advisory body – has said the prospect of further lockdowns could not be discounted.
“No, I would rule that out,” said Kwarteng when asked about the possibility of more lockdowns, before claiming the government’s current approach to curbs was “working … we’re confident we can manage this outbreak well”.
Kwarteng also said it was “absolutely” worth it to pay a deposit on a Christmas party amid concerns fresh coronavirus restrictions could be introduced.
Asked on Times Radio whether it was wise to pay money towards a party, he said: “Absolutely. I think I already have, we’ve got some arrangements in place and I look forward to having a Christmas party as usual.”
Alarm has been raised after the government announced on Tuesday that a further 223 people died after testing positive for Covid – the highest number since early March.
There was just over 43,000 more lab-confirmed Covid cases in the UK – almost eight times more than the new daily cases recorded in early March.
Despite the rising numbers of cases and deaths, the government’s Sage scientists have abandoned their weekly meetings are only meeting once a month for talks, according to the i newspaper.
Downing Street has said it is keeping a “very close eye” on increasing numbers of cases, and acknowledged there are signs that the number of hospital admissions and deaths are also rising.
But the prime minister has told his cabinet that he believes the government’s current plan is keeping the virus under control.