Ministers considering return of 'tougher COVID rules' during winter months

A woman wearing a face mask in front of a Christmas tree in the Leadenhall Market in London . (Photo by Victoria Jones/PA Images via Getty Images)
Coronavirus restrictions could return this winter, according to a report. (PA)

Coronavirus restrictions could be reimposed in the winter, according to a report.

The government is planning to end England’s lockdown on 19 July, but Politico’s Playbook newsletter reported a Whitehall document as suggesting “a series of measures and lifestyle changes remaining in place”.

This could mean restrictions in the winter, the report says, with scientific experts concerned there could be another spike in COVID infections as people spend more time indoors in the colder months.

The Cabinet Office told Yahoo News UK there are no "current" plans to introduce winter measures.

A spokeswoman said: "We have paused at step three [of the lockdown road map] for up to four weeks due to the new Delta variant, and we will continue to assess the latest data on this variant over the coming weeks."

The possibility of winter COVID restrictions has been discussed before.

As early as 5 January, one day after the third national lockdown was imposed, England’s chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty was saying restrictions may be needed over the next winter.

Watch: Michael Gove 'confident' in new 19 July date for end of COVID restrictions (from Tuesday)

Even without COVID, the NHS has always been under pressure in the winter months with flu outbreaks.

And even with the success of the UK’s COVID vaccine rollout, it’s not yet known how long jabs remain effective against hospitalisations.

Prof Sir Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, told the House of Commons science and technology committee on Wednesday that “we’re seeing lower effectiveness against symptomatic infection”.

In terms of effectiveness against hospitalisations, Prof Pollard said “it’s really encouraging so far” but “we don’t know for certain”.

A vaccine booster study launched this week in Cambridge, and the results of the trial will inform decisions about a potential booster programme later this year.

Politico also reported that the government is being urged to continue telling people to isolate if they have one of the main COVID symptoms of a cough, high temperature or loss of sense of taste or smell.

Read more:

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This, also, has been discussed before.

Health secretary Matt Hancock has previously spoken of the need to change the “British way” of people “soldiering on into work” when they have flu symptoms.

In November last year, he told MPs: “I want to have a change in the British way of doing things, where ‘if in doubt get a test’ doesn’t just refer to coronavirus but refers to any illness you might have."

Watch: Wednesday's daily politics briefing