Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has cast doubt on reports of fresh draconian new lockdown restrictions for London and said talk of an expanded shielding programme was “just speculation”.
His comments come after reports surfaced that Boris Johnson had ordered officials to work up a plan for avoiding a second national lockdown.
The Times reported the Prime Minister held a “war game” session with Chancellor Rishi Sunak on Wednesday to run through possible options for averting another nationwide lockdown that could stall any potential economic recovery.
Mr Johnson was said to be considering asking the elderly to shield once again while also mulling lockdown-like conditions for London should there be a second wave of coronavirus infections, The Sunday Telegraph and The Sunday Times said.
Cabinet minister Mr Jenrick suggested the mooted increase in shielding was “not something that is being actively considered”.
According to the Telegraph, under proposals under discussion, a greater number of people would be asked to take part in the shielding programme, based on their age or particular risk factors that have been identified since March.
It could even see those aged between 50 and 70 given “personalised risk ratings”, said the Times, in a move that would add to the 2.2 million who were deemed most vulnerable and asked to shield from society during the spring peak.
Mr Jenrick, when asked about whether new age-related measures were likely, told Times Radio: “This is just speculation.
“You would expect the Government to be considering all of the range of options that might be available.
“That’s not something that is being actively considered.”
He also said there was “no plan, as far as I’m aware” to bring in travel controls and restrictions on where Londoners could stay as part of efforts to avoid any increased transmission rate in the capital from spreading to the rest of the country.
It has been suggested that, should the R-rate escalate in the capital, the M25 would act as a travel border for London residents and people would be banned from staying the night at houses other than their own.
It comes after Mr Johnson was forced to announce a slowdown of the lockdown easing last week, with planned relaxations for the leisure and beauty sectors delayed after a rise in Covid-19 cases was recorded, with prevalence in the community thought to be rising for the first time since May.
Meanwhile, former England midfielder Paul Scholes has been accused of holding a party at his Oldham home to celebrate his son’s 21st on the same day lockdown measures were reimposed across parts of England’s north-west.
The Sun cited phone footage as showing revellers ignoring social distancing “as they drank and danced” at the seven-hour party, with the paper citing Tory MP Andrew Bridgen criticising Mr Scholes for “reckless behaviour”.
Greater Manchester Police have been approached for comment over the alleged incident.
Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, said people in his area “on the whole” had been brilliant and that he rejected “efforts to blame some for breaking lockdown rules”.
Writing in the Sunday Mirror, Mr Burnham called on the Government to ensure people in low-paid, insecure jobs are financially supported if they have to self-isolate due to coronavirus.
He wrote: “We shouldn’t spend taxpayers’ money on subsidising meals out but not support the low-paid to take time off work to protect their health.”
While the new regulations for Blackburn with Darwen and Bradford were published on Friday, those for Greater Manchester are not expected to be published until this week.
Mr Burnham has said restrictions will be reviewed on a weekly basis.
In related news, opposition MPs have accused the Government of deserting the elderly “entirely” following reports ministers had abandoned their pledge to test all care home residents regularly throughout the summer.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) admitted there had been issues with meeting its July 6 deadline for testing all asymptomatic care home residents, with testing of older people and those with dementia now pushed back two months until September 7, the PA news agency understands.
According to the Times, Professor Jane Cummings, the Government’s adult social care testing director, has written to local authority leaders to inform them that “previously advised timelines for rolling out regular testing in care homes” were being altered because of “unexpected delays”.
Liberal Democrat social care spokeswoman Munira Wilson MP said: “The decision to drop the pledge to test all care home residents regularly would be a decision to desert care home residents entirely.
“The Government has made clear right throughout the coronavirus crisis that protecting those in our care homes is not a priority for them – from the beginning of the crisis ministers failed to equip care homes with sufficient testing and PPE, whilst discharging patients with the virus into their homes.”
A DHSC spokeswoman said: “It is completely wrong to suggest care homes were deliberately deprived of testing resources and any care home resident or member of staff with symptoms can immediately access a free test.
“We continue to issue at least 50,000 tests a day to care homes across the country and prioritise tests for higher-risk outbreak areas.
“A combination of factors have meant that a more limited number of testing kits, predominantly used in care homes, are currently available for asymptomatic re-testing and we are working round the clock with providers to restore capacity.”
DHSC said it would not comment on leaked documents when asked about Prof Cummings’ memo.