Covid restrictions could RETURN with face masks & free lateral flows brought back, health minister warns

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COVID restrictions could return with measures including mandatory face masks and free lateral flows, a health minister has warned.

Lord Syed Kamall said the government is ready to bring Covid measures back to “protect the NHS” if necessary.

The spread of Covid-19 has caused the death of hundreds of thousands across the world, posing the biggest public health threat of this generation. For all the latest updates on coronavirus and lockdown rules, keep checking back here.

As it stands, cases are on the rise but the “link between infections and hospitalisations” has been broken, the junior health minister said.

But should cases rise to a point that the NHS is put under pressure and can’t cope with the backlog of patients, measures could be reintroduced.

“If it gets to a point where it is affecting the backlog then clearly measures may well have to be introduced,” Lord Kamall said.

Covid-curbing measures previously in place included mandatory face masks on public transport and free lateral flows.

On Friday, Covid cases rose again for the fifth week in a row.

One in every 25 Brits is now infected with the bug, said the Office for National Statistics.

A total of 2.7million people across the UK would have tested positive last week.

It is the highest figure for three months but experts say there are signs it should peak soon.

Today, Peers in the House of Lords grilled the government over its plans to tackle rising cases.

Labour peer Lord Hunt of Kings Heath said: “Can I ask him this, he said earlier that the incident rise is now leading to increased hospitalisations. What impact is that now having on the backlog?”

Lord Kamall replied: “I asked this very same question when I had the meeting with the UKHSA (UK Health Security Agency) officials earlier on.

“They are still focusing on the backlog. If it gets to a point where it is affecting the backlog then clearly measures may well have to be introduced.”

Earlier, he told peers: “We continue to see Covid case rates and hospitalisations rising in all age groups, with the largest increases in hospitalisations and ICU admissions in those aged 75 and older.

“The largest proportion of those hospitalised are for reasons other than Covid, however Covid is identified due to the increasing case rates in the community and the high rate of testing in hospital, including among those with no respiratory systems.

“Current data does not point to cases becoming more severe.”

Labour’s Baroness Merron asked if the government was prepared to run a campaign to raise awareness about the rising cases and if it would reintroduce mandatory mask-wearing in hospitals.

Lord Kamall responded: “We are always ready to stand up measures should the case rates rise so much that our health system was under pressure, but also what we have managed to do is break the link between infections and hospitalisations, and hospitalisations and death.

“‘If that gets out of control then of course we will stand up the measures that we have previously.”

When asked why the government hadn’t reintroduced free Covid tests for everyone in England and offered financial support for those self-isolation, the minister said there had to be a “trade off between where you spend this money”.

He went on: “All this will continue to be monitored. Should the number of cases spiral out of control then clearly we would look to reintroduce free testing at some stage if it needed that.”

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