A government minister has dismissed suggestions the UK could be heading for a two-week national lockdown.
Edward Argar, a minister in the Department of Health and Social Care, rubbished claims that Boris Johnson is being advised to take the action due to a rise in coronavirus infections.
It came after claims from a former World Health Organisation (WHO) director that England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty was recommending the prime minister enforce another UK-wide lockdown.
Mr Argar told Sky News’ Kay Burley: “It’s not something that I’ve heard about, I know there’s speculation in the press today. But it’s not something I’ve seen within the department.
“The prime minister has been very clear about this, he doesn’t want to see another national lock-down.
“He wants to see people abiding by the regulations and making the local lockdowns work and get that infection rate down.”
Anthony Costello, a former director of maternal, child and adolescent health at the WHO, had claimed Professor Whitty was recommending the two-week lock-down.
He posted on Twitter on Wednesday night: “I’m hearing from a well-connected person that government now thinks, in absence of testing, there are 38,000 infections per day.
“Chris Whitty is advising PM for a two week national lock-down.”
Mr Argar dismissed the claim, and Mr Costello himself also cast doubt on the suggestion in a follow-up tweet on Thursday morning.
He tweeted: “I’ve been told by another insider I respect that Chris Whitty does not support a 2 week lockdown, so I’m pleased to correct the record.”
Mr Argar said: “We are guided by the science but we’re not necessarily guided by the speculation in the press. It’s not something I’ve heard from Chris. And it’s something the prime minister clearly doesn’t want to see.”
On Wednesday, the prime minister firmly dismissed the prospect of a second national lockdown and suggested the economic impact of such action would be “disastrous”.
“I don’t want a second national lockdown, I think it would be completely wrong for this country,” he told a group of senior MPs.
“We are going to do everything in our power to prevent it.
“Can we afford it? I very much doubt that the financial consequences would be anything but disastrous.”
Sharp decline in coronavirus test turnaround speed in England, with only 33% getting results in 24 hours https://t.co/K2YNiaCISE— BBC Breaking News (@BBCBreaking) September 17, 2020
The government has said it will now prioritise Covid-19 tests for some groups after it admitted fixing issues with the system could take a matter of weeks.
Mr Johnson has pointed to a “colossal spike” in demand for tests as being to blame for shortages in some areas.
On Wednesday, there were 3,991 new confirmed cases of corona virus.
In a statement to the House of Commons on Thursday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock is expected to confirm new local lockdown measures for northeast England.
He is set to announce a ban in the region on socialising with people from different households, a 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants and curbs on travel.
Mr Argar told Sky News that northeast England was seeing a spike in cases similar to that in northwest England.
Coronavirus: Curfews for bars and pubs among new lockdown restrictions in northeast England https://t.co/vmP48pegcq— SkyNews (@SkyNews) September 17, 2020
He said: “In the North East we are seeing a spike in infections. It is exactly what we have seen in the North West.
“We monitor that rate. Where we need to, we step in and take action.”
Mr Argar said, in northwest England, the rise in infections was due to people not adhering to social distancing rules with different households meeting up in close proximity.
He added: “Obviously a night-time economy can fuel that when people have been to the pub, people have been out late into the evening.
“That’s one of the ways in which that transmission can increase.”
DT Steve Reed: RT SkyNews: “The fault of this has to be laid squarely at the feet of the government”— Tweets MPs Delete (@deletedbyMPs) September 17, 2020
Shadow minister Steve Reed says children should n… https://t.co/0Vm4lL0JXX
Labour’s shadow communities secretary Steve Reed accused the government of having failed to prepare for the possibility of a second wave of Covid-19 infections.
“Now that we’ve got more people going out and about as the economy opens, people are being encouraged to go back to work, children are going to school, young people are going to university, the risk of infections spreading is greater,” he told Sky News.
“But we don’t have the test, track and trace system that could keep everybody safe.
“So we risk further local or even national lockdowns. The fault of this has to be laid squarely at the feet of the government.”