Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said there won’t be a fresh lockdown of the UK economy even as Covid-19 cases tick upwards and Prime Minister Boris Johnson warns of a difficult winter ahead.
In a bullish round of interviews with UK broadcasters, Kwarteng said the government is monitoring coronavirus data by the hour, and pointed out that while case levels are high, hospitalisations and deaths are much lower than at the start of the year due to the country’s successful vaccination program.
He told LBC radio “I categorically rule out” new lockdown measures.
“We’ve worked really hard to get to the point where we could actually open up the economy; we’ve got a fast growing economy; people are getting back to work, getting back to normal life,” Kwarteng said. “Any talk of lockdowns is just not at all helpful and it’s not going to happen.”
Johnson’s government is trying to avert a fourth Coronavirus shut-down even as new daily cases have persisted above 30 000 since early September. Admissions to hospital and deaths are also creeping up.
Last month, ministers unveiled a winter Covid plan that keeps in reserve a “Plan B” under which measures including mandatory face masks, vaccine certificates and advice to work from home could return if cases surge. The National Health Service Confederation, which speaks for the health care system, on Tuesday called for the government to enact that plan “without delay,” but Kwarteng pushed back against that.
Asked if was time for that Plan B, Kwarteng told Times Radio: “No, I don’t.”
“We are learning, I think, to live with the virus,” Kwarteng said. “It’s still a difficult situation, but it’s a much, much better situation than we were in just 4 or 5 months ago when we were in the middle of a lockdown.”
Efforts for now are focusing on a booster vaccination program for vulnerable people and the over 50s. Asked about the slow rollout of those shots, Kwarteng told Sky News: “that’s something that we really need to address.”
“We’re confident that with the vaccine rollout, with the extra booster takeup, the situation can be managed well,” he said. “We could always do better, we can always improve.”