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Local lockdowns could be brought back to tackle Covid-19 hotspots, a minister has claimed.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said the government "can't rule out" having to reintroduce local restrictions to get on top of surges in the infection rate.
He admitted the return of last year's local tiering system would be a last resort because it failed to stop the spread of the virus across the country.
Daily deaths and hospital admissions are at the lowest levels since last summer with the vaccine rollout in full flow.
The average infection rate has dropped by 15% in the most recent two-week reporting period ending on May 4.
That means the next stage of the roadmap is set to go ahead on Monday, with indoor mixing allowed and pubs and restaurants allowed to serve customers inside in groups of six or two households.
But ministers are concerned about the emergence of 34 hotspots where the number of new cases is running at twice the national average.
There is a cluster around the north of England including Hyndburn in Lancashire, which has the highest rate in the country.
Neighbouring Bolton and Blackburn are also experiencing outbreaks while in Yorkshire hospots have been identified in Selby, Doncaster, Wakefield, and Kirklees, and there's another just across the border in North Lincolnshire.
Derry City and Strabane, and Mid Ulster, in Northern Ireland, and Moray in Scotland also have high rates.
The four nations of the UK all set their individual coronavirus restrictions.
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Mr Eustice said: "We're doing a lot of surveillance testing, both in schools with regular testing at home, but also now in work places.
"So this does enable us to pick up these hotspots. We're not sure quite what's driving it.
"Whether it's particular variants that are taking hold there, whether it's that in certain areas people are perhaps being a bit too lax about the restrictions that remain in place.
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"But overall the picture is a good one where we've got falling incidence of the virus and with the success of the vaccine rollout as well far fewer hospitalisations and deaths now at a very low level.
"We want to try and avoid having to get into a tiered system and regionalisation.
"We tried that last autumn, we know in the end we had to go for a full lockdown."
Mr Eustice insisted extra vaccine doses cannot be diverted to areas with high infection rates because that would "slow down" the overall rollout.
Almost 36 million people in the UK have received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, with more than 18 million of those having both jabs.
There is concern about mutant strains spreading with the World Health Organization labelling the one originating in India a "variant of concern".
- In the News
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