COVID restrictions could be reintroduced if a rising number of cases has an impact on the NHS backlog, a minister has said.
Official data shows 2.7 million people in private households are estimated to have had COVID-19 over the past week, up 18% from 2.3 million the previous week.
And in the House of Lords, health minister Lord Kamall was asked what the government was prepared to do if rising cases began to impact the health system.
He told peers the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) was still “focusing on the backlog”.
But he added: “If it gets to a point where it is affecting the backlog then clearly measures may well have to be introduced.”
The minister had earlier told peers: “We continue to see COVID-19 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.”
Opening the debate, Labour health spokeswoman Baroness Merron said there had been a “stark rise” in coronavirus infections, but the government had “been noticeably silent, perhaps being somewhat distracted”.
She asked if ministers were planning to run a campaign highlighting rising cases and the benefits of getting a COVID vaccine, as well as whether the government would consider reintroducing mandatory mask-wearing in hospitals.
Lord Kamall replied: “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.”
Liberal Democrat peer Lord Paddick wanted to know if the government would reintroduce free COVID tests for everyone in England and financial support for those who self-isolate.
Lord Kamall said some in the health system believed future COVID cash would be “better spent elsewhere given the backlog due to lockdown” rather than on free tests for all.
He added: “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.”