New England-wide measures which could see hospitality businesses forced to shut are being considered by the UK government to try to slow a second surge of coronavirus cases.
A short period of national rules – a “circuit break” of a few weeks – could be announced in the next week.
Schools and most workplaces would be kept open during those weeks.
But no final decisions have yet been reached on the next course of action.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News a new national lockdown was the “last line of defence” against coronavirus, but said the government would “take the necessary action to keep people safe”.
Asked how close the nation was to such a measure, the health secretary said he could not give an answer.
At a meeting on Wednesday night, the government’s chief scientific adviser and medical officer predicted another serious outbreak of the disease.
They forecast that there would be a significant number of deaths by the end of October if there were no further interventions.
The possible measures being discussed include asking some hospitality businesses to close, or limiting the opening hours of some pubs and restaurants nationwide.
The virus is now understood to be doubling every seven to eight days, with more than 3,300 new cases reported on Thursday.