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Britain faces three or more coronavirus waves and repeated lockdowns, a minister has warned.
Penny Mordaunt, the Paymaster General, warned of rolling shutdowns as the country tackles future Covid-19 surges.
But she told MPs this did not prove they did not work as some critics have argued, and instead gave the country time to prepare.
She said they were necessary as a “high proportion” of the population will remain vulnerable to being infected once restrictions are lifted.
Her remarks came ahead of a vote on Wednesday by MPs on the UK’s second national lockdown, which is due to start on Thursday.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been criticised by some Tory MPs for being “bounced” into it before giving regional restrictions time to work.
Speaking in parliament on Tuesday, Ms Mordaunt said she accepted people in areas with low Covid infections would feel “very aggrieved” by the second lockdown.
But although ministers are “hopeful” about being able to leave lockdown in December, she said they are “being driven by the data" and cases will rise once it is lifted.
She said: “It means that a high proportion of the population will remain vulnerable to infection, which is why some scientists expect a third or more waves of the virus to be managed by repeat lockdowns.
“Others argue that the need for future lockdowns is evidence that they do not work, but that is to misunderstand what they are there to do.
“This approach buys us time and is the optimum use of the healthcare we have in the meantime, while capacity is built and vaccines are sought.”
The lockdown will see pubs, bars, restaurants and non-essential shops shut until at least December 2 across the country.
People will only be allowed to exercise or meet with their household or one other person outdoors.
But schools, colleges and universities will stay open.
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