Boris Johnson has played down the prospect of a second national coronavirus lockdown as he compared enforcing the measures to using Britain’s nuclear deterrent.
The prime minister added that authorities are getting better at identifying and isolating local outbreaks, but said it was important that the power to order national action was held in reserve.
He told The Sunday Telegraph: “I can’t abandon that tool any more than I would abandon a nuclear deterrent.
“But it is like a nuclear deterrent, I certainly don’t want to use it, and nor do I think we will be in that position again.”
Mr Johnson’s comments could lead to further tensions between ministers and their scientific experts after Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, warned on Friday there was “a risk” that national measures could be needed as winter approaches.
Announcing a further easing of England’s lockdown restrictions on Friday, Mr Johnson said he hoped there could be a “significant return to normality” in time for Christmas.
He also said the government had given local authorities new powers to close specific premises, shut outdoor spaces and cancel events to control outbreaks.
Mr Johnson told the Telegraph: “It’s not just that we’re getting much better at spotting the disease and isolating it locally, but we understand far more which groups it affects, how it works, how it’s transmitted, so the possibility of different types of segmentation, of enhanced shielding for particular groups, is now there.
“We’re genuinely able now to look at what’s happening in much closer to real time, to isolate outbreaks and to address them on the spot, and to work with local authorities to contain the problem locally and regionally if we have to.”
Mr Johnson, who was pictured with his baby son Wilfred for the first time on Saturday, insisted his agenda for domestic reform and “levelling up” the economy would not be blown off course by the pandemic as he approaches his first anniversary of being in office.
He said: “We want to be a transformative government, because there’s a massive opportunity in this country to do things differently and to do things better.
“We’ve seen that really exemplified in what happened with coronavirus.”
The prime minister’s comments came as Scotland recorded its highest daily positive COVID-19 tests for almost a month.
Scottish government figures show there were 21 confirmed results over a 24-hour period as of 2pm on Saturday.
It is the highest number since 21 June when there were 26 positive test results.
Deputy first minister John Sweeney warned the public of the ongoing threat of coronavirus, with the surge in positive cases coming after lockdown measures were eased on Wednesday.
He tweeted: “Thankfully another day of no deaths recorded due to #COVID. 21 positive cases however remind us of the danger still out there.”
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The data also shows there were no deaths involving someone who had been confirmed as having COVID-19, meaning the death toll under this measurement remains unchanged from Thursday at 2,491.
A total of 18,422 people have now tested positive for the virus in Scotland.
There are 305 people in hospital with confirmed COVID-19, a decrease of 11 from Friday.
Of these patients, three are in intensive care – which is the same as the previous day – however, five other people are in intensive care with suspected coronavirus.