Another national shutdown is likely to have “catastrophic” economic consequences for Britain, the prime minister said.
Boris Johnson met in a committee of MPs and said the government was doing “everything in our power”
This was why new restrictions – such as the “rule of six” – were needed to “defeat” the disease, he said.
The Prime Minister also admitted that there was not enough test capacity.
Earlier, he blamed a “colossal increase” in demand for ongoing problems accessing tests and results that were delayed.
On Wednesday, coronavirus cases in the UK rose by 3,991, bringing the total to 378,219, according to government figures.
Another 20 people died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19. This brings the British deaths in total by these criteria to 41,684.
Amid the rise in coronavirus cases, Johnson was asked by the Commons Liaison Committee whether Britain could afford another national shutdown.
Sir. Johnson said: “I do not want another national lockdown – I think it would be completely wrong for this country and we will do everything in our power to prevent it.
“And can we afford it? I very much doubt that the economic consequences would be anything but catastrophic, but we have to make sure that we defeat the disease by the means we have indicated.
“So when I see people arguing against the rule of six or saying that the government is pushing too hard for individual freedoms and so on – I fully understand that and I sympathize with that, but we must, must defeat this disease.”
From Monday, new rules came into force restricting indoor and outdoor gatherings in England and Scotland and indoor groups in Wales.
Second national lockdown extremely unlikely
Another national shutdown is highly unlikely for two reasons.
Firstly, it is extremely harmful – for the economy, for education and for wider health for reasons other than Covid.
You only need to look at the latest figures for declining cancer rates, the hours spent outside school and the rising unemployment rate to see the cost of Britain’s spring lock.
Second, the government and its medical advisers have a better understanding of the virus.
Current infection rates and hospitalizations remain much lower than they were in the spring, and despite the test problems, there is quite rich data on where the virus is and how quickly it is spreading.
Even though things are getting worse, officials are pretty sure the NHS will make it.
But that does not mean there will be no further restrictions.
The ban on gathering more than six people could be just the first step.
There is also a curfew that forces hospitality places to close at. 22:00 BST.
This tactic was used in Belgium to slow the rise in cases and has been used to tackle the outbreak in Bolton.
At this time, it is unlikely that this will be used nationally.
Instead, it expects to be an option for virus hotspots along with banning visits to other people’s homes that have been used in the North West and West Yorkshire.
For example, foreclosure could be reintroduced across the country at some point along with a ban on visits to nursing homes in an attempt to protect the most vulnerable groups.
Sir. Johnson also admitted that there was insufficient capacity for coronavirus testing amid reports of people struggling to get trials and results being delayed.
He told the committee: “We do not have enough test capacity now, because in an ideal world I would like to test absolutely everyone who wants a test right away.”
He promised that there would be capacity for 500,000 tests a day before the end of October.
But he urged asymptomatic people to stay away from test centers – even though he acknowledged the reasons why they might want to find out if they had Covid-19.
“What has happened is that demand has accelerated enormously in just the last few weeks,” he said.
The Prime Minister was also asked about his goal of having a “pregnancy test” in place within months, which would have a role in fulfilling his “Operation Moonshot” ambition for mass testing.
The government has said it has allocated 500 million. £ to invest in its mass testing plans.
Sir. Johnson said: “I would be careful and say I can not sit here today and say we have such a ‘pregnancy test’ … today.
“It is right for the government to invest in such a project.”
Committee chairman Sir Bernard Jenkin told Mr Johnson that musicians, singers and artists had “fallen through the available support schemes”.
Sir. Johnson said the best way to help the sector was to “get these businesses going again and get the theaters on again by having the virus down and having a test regime that allows us to do that”.
He also said a study of the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic would “look at everything that has gone wrong and gone right”.
But he said it would not be a “good use of official time at the moment” and declined to say when the investigation could begin.
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Earlier, Justice Minister Robert Buckland said plans to place the NHS at the top of the list for coronavirus tests will be announced in the coming days.
People in nursing homes would also be a priority, while schools could be considered, Buckland said.
Resolving testing delays was “number one issue,” he added.