The prime minister described the coronavirus restrictions he imposed on 23 March as a “nuclear deterrent” that he did not think he would ever have to use again.
However his attempt to rule out a further UK lockdown in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph is likely to bring him into conflict with the government’s scientific advisors.
Sir Patrick Vallance, chief scientific adviser, has warned that there was a risk “national measures” might be needed in the event of resurgence of the virus.
He told the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee on Friday that winter was ”going to be a very complex time” due to the winter flu and added: “I think that there’s a very high likelihood that come winter, we will see an increase in cases.”
It follows a report by the Academy of Medical Sciences that a second wave in winter could be worse than that seen in March and April, with a “reasonable worst case scenario” of up to 120,000 extra hospital deaths.
Chief medical officer Chris Whitty has also consistently warned that Britain would have to live with the virus and measures such as social distancing and quarantine for “a long period of time”.
Mr Johnson has previously indicated that he wanted to rely on “local lockdowns” – such as the one imposed in Leicester on 30 June – rather than impose blanket restrictions across the UK.
On Friday he set out his plan for a “return to normality” by Christmas and announced that councils in England would be able to use enhanced powers to shut shops and cancel events to control outbreaks.
When asked whether he would rule out another nationwide shutdown, the prime minister told the Telegraph: “Yes. I mean, look, 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.
“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.”