Boris Johnson has said the UK is “now seeing a second wave” of coronavirus and that it was “inevitable” that the pandemic would hit the country again.
“Obviously, we’re looking very carefully at the spread of the pandemic as it evolves over the last few days and there’s no question, as I’ve said for several weeks now, that we could expect [and] are now seeing a second wave coming in,” Mr Johnson said.
“We are seeing it in France, in Spain, across Europe – it has been absolutely, I’m afraid, inevitable we were going to see it in this country.”
He added that a second lockdown was the “last thing anybody wants” but refused to rule out further restrictions if current social distancing measures, such as the so-called "rule of six”, do not slow the spread of the virus.
“I don’t want to go into bigger lockdown measures at all, we want to keep schools open and it is fantastic the schools have gone back in the way they have,” Mr Johnson told reporters during a visit to the Vaccines Manufacturing Innovation Centre construction site near Oxford.
“We want to keep the economy open as far as we possibly can, we want to keep businesses going.
“The only way we can do that is obviously if people follow the guidance.”
On Friday, the UK recorded 4,322 new confirmed cases of coronavirus, the highest since 1 May, and a further 27 deaths of people who had tested positive for Covid-19 in the past 28 days.
When asked whether ministers were considering a short “firebreak” lockdown, Mr Johnson said: “We’re watching it the whole time and as soon as we’ve got more to say, we’ll be saying it.”
He added: “If and when we have to go forward with other local or national measures or whatever, we will of course be explaining very clearly to everybody how we see it.”
The prime minister also reiterated that people should keep up with wearing a face covering, where necessary, and washing their hands regularly.
Asked whether he had chosen to ease lockdown measures too quickly, he suggested that while the public had done an “amazing job", fatigue with the restrictions was to blame for the UK’s rising cases.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock says a national lockdown is 'the last line of defence'
“I think probably, truth to tell, what's happened here and what alas has happened in so many other countries is that people find it difficult to keep this up," he said.
"It is very difficult to maintain that kind of discipline for a long time and what you've seen is the disease starting to spread again among young people and that's where it really started to kick off in France and Spain in those age groups and we are now seeing that here in this country.
“And alas now it is progressing and you're seeing an increase in incidents in the 80-plus group as well, so that's why we took the measures we did on Monday, action on the 'rule of six', as the disease progresses.”
If that failed, the government would “of course” have to take further measures, he said, adding: "What I don't want to do is go into a second national lockdown of the kind we had in March, April - I don't want to do that again."
As the prime minister spoke, some 13 million people across the UK found themselves subject to additional restrictions to curb the virus’s spread.
While the bulk of local lockdown measures have been implemented in England’s north, where infection rates currently tend to be highest, London’s mayor Sadiq Khan warned it was “increasingly likely … that additional measures will soon be required".
Following an emergency meeting with London council leaders, the government and Public Heath England, Mr Khan said he was “extremely concerned by the latest evidence I've seen today”.
“We will be considering some of the measures which have already been imposed in other parts of the UK,” he said in a statement.
“I am of the firm view that we should not wait, as happened six months ago, for this virus to again spiral out of control before taking action.”
Additional reporting by PA