As coronavirus cases continue to rise in the UK, the i reports that the UK Government has made contingency plans for a ‘firebreak’ lockdown to curb the spread of the virus this autumn.
Contingency plans for the October lockdown would reportedly see the autumn half term extended by a week to ease hospitalisations that could overwhelm of the NHS.
As pupils return to schools in England and Wales, and students arrive at Scottish universities for freshers week, fears that cases could continue to rise to up to 100,000 per day in coming weeks.
But will this result in another lockdown? Here’s what we know so far.
How many Coronavirus cases are there in the UK?
As of Monday 6 September, the UK as a whole recorded 41,192 positive cases and over 900 new hospitalisations.
Of these, 752 patients were admitted to hospital in England and 115 were admitted to hospital in Scotland as of 6 September.
According to the latest Public Health Scotland data, 7,065 new positive daily Covid cases were reported in the country on Monday 6 September.
This is the highest number of daily coronavirus cases seen in Scotland to date, with the most recent seven day Covid case total for the country seeing 43,317 new Covid cases between 28 August and 3 September.
This places the seven day test positivity rate at almost 13% in Scotland.
What is a firebreak lockdown?
Much like the circuit breaker lockdowns imposed in Scotland and across the UK last autumn, a firebreak lockdown would see lockdown restrictions such as social distancing, limits on social gatherings and rules around wearing face coverings reimposed temporarily in the UK.
The primary variant of concern is believed to be responsible for the bulk of coronavirus cases across the country.
Public Health England's latest technical briefing on the distribution of variants like Delta estimated that the variant was responsible for 68.1% of overall Covid cases in England between 1 October 2020 and 30 August 2021.
A Government source told the i that the wave of new infections and hospitalisations is heightening government fears that the NHS could once again become overwhelmed.
“If you look at the current trends, hospitalisations are on a path to match the levels seen at the end of October last year,” they said.
“While deaths are high compared to last year and are unlikely to hit the levels as seen last autumn because the vaccines are doing their job, it is the admissions that will push the NHS to the brink of collapse if they do not fall soon.
They added: “On top of that we have an expected resurgence in hospitalisations for other respiratory illnesses like flu. If the current high levels of admissions for Covid continue the NHS will not be able to cope, so a firebreak lockdown is by no means out of the question.”
Will there be another lockdown?
While both the UK and Scottish Governments have stressed that there will be no return to a full lockdown, the UK Government has said that contingency plans for firebreak lockdowns and temporary reimposition of restrictions could be used as a “last resort” if necessary.
However, the UK Department for Education tweeted: “It is not true that the Government is planning a lockdown or firebreak around the October half term.”
UK Vaccine Minister Nadhim Zahawi told BBC Breakfast on Tuesday that “vaccines have given us the ability to reduce infections to save 100,000 lives.
Mr Zahawi added: “I hope through the booster programme we can transition the virus from pandemic to endemic status and deal with it, year in, year out - it will be with us for many many years – but not have to close down our economy or take the measures the severe measures we had to sadly take at the December of last year.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Monday that she could not rule out the reimposition of coronavirus restrictions in Scotland and stressed the need for the public to follow remaining rules in Scotland around face masks and self-isolation.
Ms Sturgeon said: “Nobody wants to re-impose restrictions, which is why we have put such emphasis in recent days on compliance with the current mitigations in place.
“But the Scottish Government, as you would expect any responsible government to do, keeps the situation under very close review.
“Cabinet will look at the current situation and consider whether there is more that needs to be done.”
She added: “We are seeing a continued rise in cases and cases are at far too high a level."