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The Environment Secretary Says Another Lockdown Would Be An "Absolute Last Resort", Despite A Surge in Covid-19 Cases

Ministers have insisted a return to national lockdown is a "last resort"

3 min read

Environment Secretary George Eustice has said reimposing a full-scale nation lockdown was "an absolute last resort" despite a jump in coronavirus cases.

The comments came after the UK recorded 2,988 new positive coronavirus tests in the 24 hours up to 9am on Sunday, the highest daily total since 22 May, and up from the 1,175 announced on Saturday.

Public Health England said the results showed there had been a broad increase across the whole of England, with no single area responsible for the rise.

But the figures have prompted fears that cases could rise further as more people return to work and universities prepare to reopen later this month.

Professor Gabriel Scally, a former NHS regional director of public health for the south-west said the rise showed ministers had "lost control of the virus".

"It's no longer small outbreaks they can stamp on," he told The Guardian. "It's become endemic in our poorest communities and this is the result.

"It's extraordinarily worrying when schools are opening and universities are going to be going back."

Speaking to Sky News, Mr Eustice said the "significant jump" in new cases was partly due to an increase in testing, but admitted the proportion of positive cases had also risen.

But he insisted the government would continue to focus on tackling "hotspots" by imposing "local lockdowns" rather than a return to wider national measures.

"These local lockdowns can have an impact and can be successful," he said.

"And I think that's the approach we want to take - not a full-scale national lockdown, but a local approach responding to flare-ups where we see them."

Pressed on the chances of ministers backing a national crackdown, he said the move would be an "absolute last resort".

His comments come after Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he was "concerned" about the surge in cases which was "predominantly among young people".

Speaking on Sunday, Mr Hancock also urged young people to follow the government's social distancing rules in a bid to avoid the infection spreading to their older relatives.

"The cases are predominantly among younger people but we have seen in other countries across the world and in Europe this sort of rise in the cases among younger people lead to a rise across the population as a whole," he said.

"So it so important that people don’t allow this illness to infect their grandparents and to lead to the sort of problems that we saw earlier in the year."

But the surge in cases have prompted calls from Labour for Mr Hancock to give an urgent Commons update on how he plans to reduce the infection rates.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the rise in cases came amid growing concerns that the test and trace system was struggling to cope following reports that some testing centres were running short of supplies, forcing some to travel miles from their home to recieve a test.

He said on Sunday: "Today's increase in coronavirus cases is deeply concerning and a stark reminder that there is no room for complacency in tackling the spread of the virus.

"This increase, combined with the ongoing testing fiasco where ill people are told to drive for miles for tests, and the poor performance of the contact tracing system, needs an explanation from ministers.

"Matt Hancock must come to the House of Commons to set out what is being done to get testing back on track and bring case numbers down."


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