The one-month lockdown for England announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson this weekend could be extended as Britain struggles to contain a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, a senior cabinet member said on Sunday.
Johnson announced on Saturday that the lockdown across England would kick in after midnight on Thursday morning and last until Dec. 2.
The United Kingdom, which has the biggest official death toll in Europe from COVID-19, is grappling with more than 20,000 new coronavirus cases a day and scientists have warned a worst-case scenario of 80,000 dead could be exceeded.
So far, it has reported 46,555 COVID-19 deaths - defined as those dying within 28 days of a positive test. A broader measure of those with COVID-19 on their death certificates puts the toll at 58,925.
Asked if a lockdown could be extended beyond early December, senior cabinet minister Michael Gove told Sky News: "Yes."
"We can definitively say that unless we take action now, the (health service) is going to be overwhelmed in ways that none of us could countenance."
The other constituents of the United Kingdom - Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - have their own policies and enacted tougher COVID-19 health restrictions last month.
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Saturday she was prepared to further tighten the rules there if necessary.
Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour Party, said the government had missed a golden chance to lockdown England more effectively when schools were on half-term break last month.
"Well that's gone now. That is the price of the government's incompetence," Starmer told the BBC.