The forthcoming national lockdown in England is designed to reduce Covid-19 transmission rates to the extent that it can end as scheduled on 2 December, chief medical officer Chris Witty said.
Speaking to MPs, Whitty said the new lockdown, which is due to come into force on Thursday, could reduce the reproduction (R) number for the virus below 1 if it is adhered to by the public but that other measures would be needed through the winter even if full lockdown ends December.
He said the new restrictions would “make a huge difference”, but reiterated that coronavirus will still be a problem “we need to see through winter”.
Asked if there was a reliable chance of lockdown ending as planned early next month, Whitty said: “The aim of this is to get the rates down far enough that it’s a realistic possibility to move into a different state of play at that point in time.”
The chief medical officer said that while medical authorities would provide relevant technical data, it would be up to ministers to decide whether to end the England-wide lockdown in December.
His comments come after cabinet minister Michael Gove admitted earlier today there was a chance that the month-long lockdown could be extended beyond 2 December.
Appearing before MPs this afternoon, Whitty also defended England’s Test and Trace programme after being questioned by politicians.
“Test and trace has gone from a standing start to a long way down the track,” he said. “We’ve all said from the very beginning this is most effective when the rates are low”.