UK warned of 'full COVID lockdown' if vaccine-busting variant emerges

Watch: Tory minister warns of 'full lockdown' if COVID variant evades vaccines

A vaccine-evading coronavirus variant could force England into "another full lockdown", a senior minister has warned.

Environment minister George Eustice admitted that the government has considered the option as a last resort, despite Boris Johnson insisting it is not what he wants to do this winter.

Earlier this week the prime minister announced his plans for controlling COVID-19 over the winter months.

He also revealed the government had a Plan B - with mandatory masks and vaccine passports - should a new variant emerge or the NHS show signs of becoming overwhelmed.

Johnson did not mention or acknowledge the existence of a Plan C - or a full lockdown - to get cases further under control if Plan B does not prove stringent enough.

However, on Friday, Eustice raised the prospect while discussing new, more relaxed rules on foreign travel.

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 14: Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson attends a press conference in the Downing Street Briefing Room on September 14, 2021 in London, England. The prime minister's briefing was preceded by his health secretary's appearance before the House of Commons, in which he laid out the country's strategies for managing the pandemic through the autumn and winter. (Photo by Richard Pohle - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Boris Johnson unveiled his 'winter plan' for tackling COVID on Tuesday, but made no mention of a Plan C. (Getty Images)

He said: "Arguably the biggest threat to the travel industry is that we do get another variant that manages to get around the vaccine, that the vaccine can’t deal with, then we’re into another full lockdown - and that’s not what we want.

"That’s why we’ve taken this cautiously, step by step, because we want each step we take to be irreversible."

Also Friday, Public Health England said that some 12,407 people had been admitted to hospital in England in the week up to 12 September who were either confirmed or likely to have the Delta variant of COVID-19.

Of this number, 6,230 were under the age of 50 and 6,167 were aged 50 or over. Of the 6,230 under 50, 4,517 (73%) were unvaccinated, 848 (14%) had received one dose of vaccine and 721 (12%) had received both doses.

DUNFERMLINE, SCOTLAND - APRIL 2: A motorway sign carries a
Cabinet minister George Eustice appeared to let slip that there is a possibility of England returning to a full lockdown should a new coronavirus variant emerge. (Getty Images)

Of the 6,167 aged 50 or over, 1,786 (29%) were unvaccinated, 435 (7%) had received one dose of vaccine and 3,913 (63%) had received both doses

The government's main strategy for controlling the spread of coronavirus is a vaccine booster campaign to tackle waning immunity.

Heath secretary Sajid Javid referred on Tuesday to evidence that the protection given by vaccines “reduces over time, particularly older people who are at greater risk”.

Boosters will be offered to priority groups including over-50s, people with underlying health conditions and health and social care workers.

The prime minister described this as “building even higher walls of vaccine protection in this country”.

The booster campaign is just one of a stream of measures being rolled out as part of the government's so-called Plan A.

However, Johnson warned on Tuesday that a Plan B may be necessary if the COVID situation deteriorates.

“COVID is still out there,” he said. “The disease sadly still remains a risk, but I’m confident we can keep going with our plan and turn jabs, jabs, jabs into jobs, jobs, jobs.”

While the prime minister did not outline exactly what would trigger a move to Plan B, Whitty said a decision would depend on absolute numbers of patients going into hospital; rates of infection, and the overall state of the NHS.

No mention was made of a Plan C.

Watch: NHS in England begins delivering booster jabs