Future “flare-ups” of coronavirus infections could lead to localised lockdown measures, the health secretary has said.
Matt Hancock revealed stricter social distancing measures could be introduced in certain areas in future as part of the NHS “test and trace” system for continuing to suppress the spread of COVID-19.
“We will have local lockdowns in future where there are flare-ups,” he said at the daily Downing Street coronavirus briefing on Tuesday.
“We have a system we are putting in place with a combination of Public Health England and the new joint biosecurity centre – along with the local directors of public health who play an absolutely crucial role in the decision-making in the system – to make sure if there is a local flare-up there is a local lockdown,” he continued.
“And so local lockdowns will be part of the future system that we put in place as part of the NHS test and trace system.”
The government has said it will have 25,000 contact-tracers trained and ready to start work on 1 June.
Their role will be to trace and advise people who may have come into close contact with someone testing positive for coronavirus.
A contact-tracing NHS app has also been trialled on the Isle of Wight.
The government’s road map for easing lockdown restrictions set out how the Joint Biosecurity Centre would have a “response function” that could address local spikes in infections, in partnership with local public health agencies.
This could lead to local schools, businesses or workplaces being closed in areas with high prevalence of infection, it said.
The latest figures on confirmed cases show they are relatively high in the North East, with 495 confirmed cases per 100,000 population in Sunderland.
In parts of the South West, the figures are as low as 105 per 100,000 in South Somerset.
Barrow-in-Furness (with 831 confirmed cases per 100,000) has the highest figure for England and the whole of the UK.
However, some regions may have done more testing than others, so they will have detected more cases.
Tuesday’s daily briefing was again dominated by questions about the actions of Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s chief adviser, who is accused of breaching lockdown rules.
Mr Hancock defended asking the public to self-isolate in the test and trace programme despite Mr Cummings’s actions, saying: “They’re not doing it for me, people are doing this for their loved ones.
“If you’re phoned up and asked to self-isolate even though you’re perfectly healthy because you’ve been in close contact with somebody who’s tested positive, then it’s your civic duty to then self-isolate, for yourself, for your community, for your family, and we all need to come together to do this.”
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Mr Hancock also used the daily briefing to reveal the government is to rebuild its stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE).
He said: “I can announce that we have now signed contracts to manufacture two billion items of PPE here in the UK.
“Around the world, we’ve signed deals with over 100 new suppliers, including agreeing contracts for a further 3.7 billion gloves.”