Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer has called for nurseries to be closed to stop the spread of the virus among young children.
The majority of children infected with the virus do not show any symptoms, but evidence suggests they can still catch the virus and spread it to others.
On Sunday Sir Keir told the BBC nurseries “probably should be closed”.
He said: “I think there is a case for looking at nursery schools, we’re talking to the scientists about that. I think people are surprised that primary schools were closed but nurseries aren’t.”
The Early Years Alliance, a nursery industry body, has called on the Government to explain how nurseries can be safe while primary schools are deemed too dangerous to open.
Michael Gove has said it is important for children to continue to attend so their parents can work. Unlike in the rules for schools, nurseries are not only for the children of key workers – any child can attend.
Professor Calum Semple, a scientist on the Sage committee that advises the Government, earlier this month said the plan to keep nurseries open was a “political decision”.
He suggested the effect on the transmission rate could be “tempered by restricting the nursery capacity to those essential workers”.
Abolish support bubbles
Scientists have long been sceptical about the use of support bubbles during spikes in the rate of infection in the UK. Last May Sage advised against the introduction of the bubbles, which allow the fusion of two households where one of them involves a person who lives alone.
The bubbles were eventually introduced in an attempt to reduce the detrimental mental health effects of lockdown, but the Government has not ruled out abolishing the bubbles if case numbers continue to climb.
Asked on Sunday whether ministers were considering withdrawing the legal exemption of support bubbles, Mr Hancock said: “I don’t want to speculate because the most important message is not whether the Government will further strengthen the rules.”
Support bubble arrangements mean people who live alone can join another household and stay overnight in their home.
Guidance suggests people who have a support bubble should choose a household close to their home, to reduce unnecessary travel.
Ending the arrangement would make the lockdown more similar to the original measures in March last year, but could have a greater detrimental effect on peoples’ mental health.