The environment secretary has refused to rule out the possibility of a third national lockdown in January, saying the current state of the coronavirus pandemic is a “rapidly developing situation”.
George Eustice said it could be avoided “if we maintain the tiered approach for as long as necessary” and that “we can see a way out of this early next summer”.
Pressed on whether he could rule out another lockdown in the New Year, the Cabinet minster said: “You can’t rule anything out.”
Eustice also laid bare the scale of the discontent on Tory benches ahead of Tuesday’s Commons vote on the new Covid restrictions for England.
He said up to 100 people have “got concerns”, telling Sky News: “The chief whip, obviously, will be talking to those MPs who have got concerns. I’ve seen suggestions that there could be up to 100 or so people that have got concerns.
“I think there is great frustration with the emergency measures that we have had to take to deal with this pandemic. We haven’t taken them lightly. We have had to take these to get the virus under control.
“What we need to show to those MPs and to the country at large is that we have got a clear route towards fixing this problem and turning the corner.”
The environment secretary also clarified new rules around eating and drinking out in tier 2 areas, post-lockdown.
Asked if people living in Tier 2 areas would have to leave a pub or restaurant as soon as they finish eating, or could stay to finish their drink, he said: “I think you can finish your drink provided you are at a table and you have had a drink with a meal then, of course, you can finish your drink as well.
“What you probably couldn’t do is have a small meal and then sit at the table all night ordering drink.”
Between November 13 and 24, more than 105,000 volunteers were tested for the virus as part of an ongoing study by Imperial College London and Ipsos MORI to work out infection levels in the general population.