The Environment Secretary also said the Government “can never rule out that there may have to be a delay,” when asked about the full lifting of lockdown on June 21.
Only yesterday the Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said he thought it “very likely” that all coronavirus restrictions will be scrapped on June 21, despite the threat of the Indian variant.
The latest change in tone comes amid concerns that the next phase of reopening could be delayed due to the fast-spreading Indian variant of coronavirus.
Asked if ministers were actively looking at fully opening on June 21 while imposing localised restrictions, he replied: “That would be an option and we cannot rule anything out, obviously, at this stage.
“Our preferred outcome is that we really double down and get the vaccination rates up in those areas that are seeing these problems so that we can give them the immunity that they need to this virus - and then we won’t have to have any such local lockdowns.”
Mr Eustice said the Government wanted the complete lifting of restrictions to go ahead on June 21 but added: “We cannot rule anything out and that is why the Prime Minister said we will take this step at a time.”
He said that “shortly before” June 21 the Government would be in a position to assess whether the country can move to the next stage.
“We want to do that, that's always been the plan, we want each step to be an irreversible step but we can never rule out that there may have to be a delay,” the Secretary of State added.
Any delay to the timeline is expected to spark opposition from Conservative MPs. Mark Harper, chairman of the Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs, said: “It is concerning to hear the Government is entertaining the delay of the June 21 unlocking – causing massive problems for many people’s livelihoods – because some people won’t have a jab. Wider society’s fate can’t be sealed by the actions of a small group of people.”
In the Commons on Monday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said there were now 2,323 confirmed cases of the Indian strain in the UK, with 86 local authority areas recording at least five.
Worst hit areas have been Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen - where “surge” vaccinations and testing has been deployed.