Mr Hancock said the UK Government did not want a second national shutdown, but ‘we’re prepared to do it, if we need to’.
The Health Secretary refused on Friday morning to say how close the UK was to another wave of country-wide restrictions but said the government would “do what is necessary to keep people safe”.
“The first line of defence is the that everybody should follow social distancing … the contact tracing system which is working very well, that is the second line of defence. After that, these local lockdowns,” he said, speaking hours after the North East was put under new restrictions.
“The last line of defence is full national action, and I don’t want to see that but we will do what is necessary to keep people safe in a very difficult pandemic.”
More than 11 million people out of Britain’s 65 million person population are currently under tougher coronavirus restrictions imposed locally in areas including Birmingham, Greater Manchester, the north East, Lanarkshire, and Leicester. Fresh restrictions are also expected to be imposed on parts of Lancashire like Preston, Lancaster, and Burnley.
Pressed on the prospect of a national lockdown, Mr Hancock said: “It isn’t something that we ever take off the table, but it isn’t something that we want to see either. It is the last line of defence. The country once again needs to come together and recognise there is a serious challenge. That the virus is accelerating.
“Unfortunately, it isn’t just cases increasing, it’s also the number of people ending up in hospital increasing.”
He added: “A national lockdown is the last line of defence and we want to use local action. I want to avoid a national lockdown.”
The government’s own Sage scientific advisory group is recommending a two-week national lockdown in October to stem the virus. In England, the R number of the virus is thought to be significantly above 1, meaning infections are spreading.