This week saw another grim milestone in the pandemic with seven million people now said to have contracted coronavirus since it began in the UK.
On Monday, 41,192 positive tests were reported, along with 45 Covid-related deaths. With cases on the rise, and as schools open, health officials are said to be considering ‘firebreak’ restrictions.
A member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) spoke to the i paper and said the UK is set to enter “an extended peak of infections and hospitalisations.”
This could push the already fragile NHS past breaking point, requiring the government to introduce limitations over the school half term at the end of the October.
A firebreak lockdown, also known as a circuit breaker, is the introduction of a short burst of tough lockdown restrictions to break the chain of coronavirus transmission, without severely harming the economy.
A circuit breaker was introduced in Wales last year while discussions for possible firebreaks in England happened, but were not implemented.
A firebreak now could include an extended half term, meaning school children have two weeks off instead of one. The Sage advisor said it was unlikely that a national lockdown would be implemented.
However, speaking on Sky News this morning, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi played down such restrictions being imposed next month. The government has also said it will not be introducing the restrictions.
Posting on social media, the Department for Education said: “It is not true that the government is planning a lockdown or firebreak around the October half term.”
Downing Street added that it is “planning for a range of scenarios” if Covid cases surge, but denied specific firebreak plans.
The prime minister’s official spokesperson said: “No, it is not true that the government is planning a lockdown or firebreak around the October half term.”
Zahawai added on Sky News: “So the vaccines have actually allowed us to reach an equilibrium with the virus in the sense that they have prevented over 100,000 deaths, many, many millions of infections and of course hospitalisations as well.
“The upward pressure on infections is as, obviously, we have reopened the economy to pretty much as close to normal as you can get.
“So the booster programme that we have had interim advice from the JCVI [Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation] on is my absolute priority. That will protect the most vulnerable to serious infection – that will absolutely help us to transition the virus from pandemic to endemic status.
“The important thing is that we get that right, because I think if we do that well, we can continue on this sort of one-way road towards sustaining the opening of the economy and, by next year hopefully, transitioning the virus from pandemic to endemic and dealing with it on an annual basis.”
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said last week booster shots would be going ahead in September as planned.