Boris Johnson is reportedly delaying any decision on a national lockdown in the hope that new rapid turnaround Covid tests can be deployed before the end of the year.
Johnson said last week that 1m “swab in the gob” tests, that give a result in 15 minutes, could be used every day by the end of the year.
The Sunday Times reports that sources inside the government think a national lockdown is weeks away, but that the Prime Minister is holding off until the rapid testing becomes closer to being a reality.
Downing Street and other senior government figures are also becoming convinced that a vaccine will be available by the end of the year for the country’s most vulnerable.
This may also be a factor in the government’s reluctance to immediately implement a two to three week “circuit breaker” lockdown as demanded by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).
Deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam told MPs this week that “we aren’t light years away” from a vaccine.
“It isn’t a totally unrealistic suggestion that we could deploy a vaccine soon after Christmas,” he said.
It comes as NHS Test and Trace chief Baroness Dido Harding today told the Sunday Times that her programme was “not a silver bullet” to solving the Covid crisis.
The UK’s test and trace regime has been much maligned since it was launched months ago.
Last week’s figures show just 62 per cent of people who had been in close contact with Covid carriers had been told to self-isolate.
When NHS Test and Trace began, experts said this number needed to be at least 80 per cent for it to be effective.
“The virus unfortunately doesn’t behave in such a way that there is a silver bullet,” Harding said.
“The only way that we’re going to learn how to live with Covid is through a number of different interventions, of which test and trace is undoubtedly a very important one.”