The UK is reeling from a huge surge in cases of the Omicron variant.
Cases appear to now falling but a persistently high number of cases may indicate that a return to some lockdown restrictions is needed.
The current Plan B measures are set for review this week and one minister is currently confident that further restrictions will not be required.
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “There’s nothing in the data that gives me any concern that we need to go beyond where we are at.
“But we are seeing leakage into the over-50s in terms of infections, and it’s generally the over-50s who end up with severe infection and hospitalisation.”
The record-breaking surge has seen cases rise to never previously seen levels and a number of hospital trusts have declared major incidents as they struggle to cope with a lack of staff after being hit by Covid.
The government may therefore reconsider their current plans should this continue.
So what would lead to another full lockdown?
There has been a high number of cases in England and Wales in recent weeks as the Omicron variant took hold.
Reported case numbers are now falling, but are still high and remaining so causes strain on hospitals and could affect NHS staff.
There were 137,583 new cases of Covid reported in England and Wales on January 2, down around 25,000 cases from the day before.
Cases could go up as the UK feels the effect of socialising over the New Year and as schools return.
Much of this is speculation and it is hoped the booster rollout in the run-up to the New Year will help stop the spread.
The number of cases may also depend on the number of tests being taken – the UK experienced a shortage of PCR and lateral flow tests in the last week of December.
Death numbers and hospitalisations
The most recent data for all of the UK is not yet published, but deaths across the UK were on the rise by December 29.
These deaths are relatively low, however – compared to the peak of the pandemic when the Delta variant was dominant – and may shore up claims the Omicron variant is milder after all.
The most recent report on death numbers showed that 981 deaths within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test were recorded over the last week – a 50% rise compared with the previous seven days.
However, numbers were not fully reported over Christmas due to a backlog.
If a lockdown does occur it could likely be due to a shortage of NHS staff forced to isolate rather than hospitalisations, although hospital cases outside London – the Omicron epicentre – do appear to be rising.
NHS Providers said “a number” of trusts have declared in the last few days that they are delivering “compromised care” due to the crisis.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “It’s been striking talking to chief executives about how that pressure is mounting outside London. We’re seeing rising numbers of Covid patients coming into hospital, there is a lot of staff absence which in some trusts is causing a real problem.”