A second wave of coronavirus is a “very serious threat” which could result in another nationwide lockdown, Matt Hancock has warned.
The health secretary said the government was not ruling out reimposing restrictions across England if cases rose again this winter.
He also warned of the “reasonable worst-case scenario” of another surge in Covid-19 at the same time as an outbreak of seasonal flu.
“A second wave is clearly visible in other parts of the world,” Mr Hancock said in an interview with The Times.
“It is a very serious threat. But so far in the UK we are managing to keep the number of new cases flat through a combination of test and trace and local lockdowns.
“This is the reasonable worst-case scenario, that we have a bad flu and a growth in coronavirus as people spend more time indoors.
“Cases go up again, and we have to use very extensive local lockdowns or take further national action. We don’t rule that out but we don’t want to see it.”
Health leaders and medical experts have repeatedly warned of the likelihood of a second wave of the virus, often using the example of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.
The government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance warned in July that there was a risk “national measures” might be needed in the event of resurgence of the virus and a report by the Academy of Medical Sciences suggested that a second wave over the winter could be even more deadly, with up to 120,000 extra hospital deaths.
However, Boris Johnson has previously attempted to play down the likelihood of another nationwide lockdown, describing the measure as a “nuclear deterrent” that he did not think he would have to use again.