Millions of people who are at risk of serious illness from Covid-19 could be asked to start shielding again if infection rates continue to rise, according to reports.
Officials are planning to send out letters telling the most vulnerable either to stay at home to to follow advice specifically tailored to their health conditions, it is claimed.
The Daily Telegraph claims the new programme would initially target those living in areas with dangerous levels of coroanvirus but went on to quote an anonymous official as saying it could be applied to the whole of England if necessary.
If so, it could affect up to 4.5 million people - more than double the number who were asked to shield at the start of the lockdown in March.
Meanwhile the government has warned councils across the country that coronavirus has begun spreading through care homes again.
The Telegraph quoted from a letter sent by Stuart Miller, the director of adult social care delivery at the Department of Health and Social Care, to care providers, local authority chief executives and directors of adult social care.
“Over the past three days, Public Health England has reported an increase in notifications of Covid-19 cases in care homes,” he wrote.
"Testing data has also shown an increase in the number of positive results.
"Currently, the infections are mainly affecting the workforce, but clearly there is a risk the virus will spread to care home residents, or to other parts of the care sector. Unfortunately, in some care homes with recent outbreaks, this does appear to have occurred, with residents also becoming infected."
Three councils in the northeast - Newcastle, Gateshead and Sunderland - have already asked care homes to cancel family visits because of an increase in cases. ITV reported that Worcestershire County Council, Wolverhampton City Council, Caerphilly in Wales and parts of Coventry had done the same.
There were nearly 30,000 “excess deaths” in care homes between March and June, according to official statistics.
It comes after one of the government’s scientific advisers, Sir Mark Walport, warned that the UK is "on the edge of losing control" of the outbreak again.
More than 3,000 new cases of coronavirus have been reported for two days in a row, according to official figures, although hospitalisations and deaths remain low.
And on Friday Yvonne Doyle, medical director at Public Health England, said there were “worrying signs” that infections were spreading to the elderly.
The new shielding scheme is reportedly based on a "stratified risk model" which would target individuals based on factors such as their underlying health conditions, age, sex and weight. The Telegraph said that Boris Johnson had shelved plans to ask people to stay at home based on their age.