So far European leaders have stopped short of re-imposing strict lockdowns despite the resurgence of COVID-19 but Emmanuel Macron has refused to rule out such a scenario in France and Germany has banned all large gatherings until next year. And UK ministers have warned nationwide restrictions would be a possibility if there was a spike in coronavirus cases this winter.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock also hinted restrictions may not be eased over Christmas to avoid a spike in the number of coronavirus cases.
Mr Hancock acknowledged countries in others parts of the world were already experiencing a second wave and described it as “a very serious threat”.
But he said the UK was managing to keep the number of new cases “flat” through the test and trace system and local lockdowns.
Describing the worst-case scenario, he said the UK could be battling bad flu and a growth in coronavirus as people spend more time indoors.
Mr Hancock said: “Cases go up again, and we have to use very extensive local lockdowns or take further national action.
“We don’t rule that out, but we don’t want to see it.”
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His comments come as local COVID-19 restrictions were eased in northern England, which will allow social gatherings between two homes from Wednesday in Bolton, Stockport, Trafford, Burnley, Hyndburn and parts of Bradford, Calderdale and Kirklees.
Mr Hancock said a second wave could be “avoidable but it’s not easy”, with schools reopening next week presenting new challenges in stopping the spread of the virus.
In an interview with ITV News, Mr Hancock said: “We’re doing a huge amount of planning to make sure that the NHS is prepared and can cope to make sure that people can have as much freedom to enjoy Christmas, to enjoy winter, as possible.”
But when asked whether there will be special rules to allow more people to visit one another over Christmas, Mr Hancock suggested it could lead to a rise in the number of people catching the virus.
Tory MP Tobias Ellwood said “draconian action” could be needed if the public do not stick to social distancing rules, hinting the Government could take stronger action than local lockdowns.
He said: “It’s an enduring emergency and until a vaccine turns up there is a national resolve, there is a responsibility, a duty of every individual.
“Also the Government needs to keep the nation safe and that’s where Matt Hancock’s work comes in and then Rishi Sunak needs to make sure the economy is working.
“If the nation, if individuals aren’t following the rules then ultimately we cannot break the chain of spread and therefore draconian action is required to take place.”