Matt Hancock hints lockdown could RETURN for new Covid variants as expert warns masks and distancing should stay FOREVER

MATT Hancock today did not rule out plunging Britain into more lockdowns to beat vaccine-evading variants.

The Health Secretary was confident jabs could be rolled out at breakneck speed to combat future strains – but hinted restrictions would still be needed while the doses are developed.

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During a grilling by MPs this morning he was quizzed on Government plans being drawn up in the background in the event of a fresh outbreak.

Mr Hancock said: "We will be able to bring a vaccine to bear much more quickly, I'm highly confident about that."

But he added: "In theĀ meantime the tools that we have at our disposal are the tools that are available. And we would need to enact them."

He did not deny these "tools" referred to lockdowns and social distancing.

The Cabinet Minister put the UK on notice as a radical Sage scientist called for facemasks and social distancing to remain "forever".

Prof Susan Michie told Channel 5 that while vaccines will go some way to wresting down cases restrictions will be needed in the long term.

She said: "We'll need to keep these going in the long term… I think forever, to some extent."

The current lockdown, which has gone on in some form since March last year, is due to end on June 21 but risks being delayed by the Indian "Delta" variant.

Although Boris Johnson has repeatedly hailed his roadmap "cautious but irreversible" he has never ruled out reimposing draconian measures.

Mr Hancock today revealed that more than 90 per cent of all new infections were of this strain – but was optimistic that vaccines work on the mutation.

But he said that ministers have drawn up a "playbook" of tactics so they can tackle future outbreaks driven by vaccine-resistant strains.

The Health Secretary said: "The plan is predicated on having a variant vaccine as fast as possible.

"The Prime Minister has set a target of having a variant vaccine and treatment and diagnostics within 100 days but we're not there yet at that speed."

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