Cabinet minister: Vaccine-dodging variant will prompt lockdown

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The emergence of a vaccine-dodging coronavirus variant will force the Government to impose ‘another full lockdown‘, a Cabinet minister said today. 

Environment Secretary George Eustice let slip that a national shutdown is in the Government’s toolbox to prevent the spread of the disease should the virus manage to ‘get around’ the jabs. 

Mr Eustice insisted another lockdown ‘is not what we want’ but his confirmation that it is on the table is likely to spark Tory fury, with many MPs vehemently against the potential return of nationwide draconian curbs. 

His comments come just days after Boris Johnson unveiled his Winter Plan for stopping the spread of the disease in the coming months. 

The document contained no specific mention of a potential lockdown but said ‘more harmful economic and social restrictions would only be considered as a last resort’ if the NHS was at risk of being ‘overwhelmed’. 

Mr Johnson repeatedly said he wanted the UK’s exit from the last lockdown to be ‘irreversible’. 

© Provided by Daily Mail
© Provided by Daily Mail

Mr Eustice was grilled this morning on Sky News about expected changes to the Government’s international travel rules. 

The minister would not be drawn on specifics as he said the Cabinet sub-committee in charge of the issue is expected to make its decisions later today. 

Told that the travel industry is at a critical point and that now is the time to change the traffic light system, Mr Eustice replied: ‘It has been a very, very difficult time for the travel industry, we absolutely recognise that.

‘That is why we have done all we can to have those easements in place, reduce the restrictions as quickly as we can.

‘But arguably the biggest threat to the travel industry is that we do get another variant that manages to get around the vaccine, that the vaccine can’t deal with, then we are into another full lockdown and that is not what we want.

‘That is why we have taken this cautiously, step by step, because we want each step we take to be irreversible.’

Mr Eustice’s remarks about another lockdown go much further than the PM’s Winter Plan which set out a Plan A and a Plan B for dealing with coronavirus, neither of which included the threat of a lockdown. 

The Government’s preferred Plan A approach includes rolling out a booster vaccination campaign and encouraging people to meet outdoors or open windows if indoors. 

People will also be encouraged to wear a face mask in crowded and enclosed settings while businesses will be urged to consider using the Covid pass to check the vaccination status of customers.          

The Plan B, to be deployed in the event of unsustainable pressure on the NHS, could include telling the public to be more cautious, introducing mandatory vaccine-only Covid passes for settings like nightclubs and making face masks compulsory in some circumstances. 

Advice to work from home where possible could also be re-introduced.          

The Winter Plan said that ‘thanks to the success of the vaccination programme, it should be possible to handle a further resurgence with less damaging measures than the lockdowns and economic and social restrictions deployed in the past’. 

© Provided by Daily Mail

But the Government has left the door open to imposing even more draconian restrictions. 

The plan states: ‘While the Government expects that, with strong engagement from the public and businesses, these contingency measures should be sufficient to reverse a resurgence in autumn or winter, the nature of the virus means it is not possible to give guarantees. 

‘The Government remains committed to taking whatever action is necessary to protect the NHS from being overwhelmed but more harmful economic and social restrictions would only be considered as a last resort.’

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