Matt Hancock refuses to rule out second nationwide coronavirus lockdown

Health secretary Matt Hancock. Photograph: Jonathan Brady, PA Wire/PA Images.

Health secretary Matt Hancock. Photograph: Jonathan Brady, PA Wire/PA Images.

Matt Hancock has refused to rule out another nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus but says the “great hope” is that people will heed current advice to help manage a “very serious” situation.

The heath secretary said such a lockdown was the “last line of defence” as he responded to reports the government is considering further national measures, even for just a two-week period, such as imposing a curfew on bars and restaurants.

It comes as ministers come under fire over the NHS Test and Trace system, which has seen up to four times the number of people trying to book a test as the number of tests available.

Experts have said that without effective testing and tracing, it will be much harder to control the spread of the virus and pinpoint larger outbreaks.

Hancock told BBC Breakfast the latest data showed that hospital admissions are now doubling every eight days, amid warnings that deaths will rise in the coming weeks.

He said it was “absolutely critical” that people followed the rule of having no more than six people at a gathering, while those living under local restrictions should ensure they are sticking to advice.

“Also, if people have tested positive, or if people have been in close contact with somebody who tests positive, that they self-isolate,” he said.

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“And if we do all these things, then we can avoid having to take serious further measures.”

He said the current approach was “targeted interventions” but “a national lockdown is the last line of defence”.

He added: “As we saw in the spring, it is the thing that we can do to keep people safe if that’s needed.

“So we’re watching vigilantly, but we can see the number of cases accelerating, and we’re prepared to do what it takes both to protect lives and to protect livelihoods, and of course, both are so important.

“We want to avoid a national lockdown but we’re prepared to do it, if we need to.”

Hancock told Sky News the government preferred to use “local action” over a two-week “circuit break” lockdown.

And he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We want to avoid national lockdown altogether.

“I have learned over the last nine months not ever to rule anything out.

“However, it is not the proposal that’s on the table.”

The Financial Times reported that they had said a lockdown could coincide with the October school half-term.

Earlier this week, prime minister Boris Johnson described the potential impact of a second national lockdown on the economy as “disastrous”.

At the moment, more than 10 million people across the UK are living under local restrictions, covering parts of Scotland, South Wales, the North West and North East of England, Yorkshire and the Midlands.

The government is also expected to announce tighter restrictions on care home visits in areas with high numbers of coronavirus cases.

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