A range of measures could be implemented if numbers of Covid-19 cases surge this winter, Sajid Javid has said.
The Health Secretary said the measures are part of a “Plan B” if attempts to control the spread of coronavirus – that include a massive booster vaccination programme – are not effective.
The contingency plans will only come into force if there is “unsustainable” pressure on the NHS in England, Mr Javid said.
Those measures could include public warnings that the level of risk has increased, the legal requirement to wear face masks in some settings, and advice for people to work from home if they can.
The government is also considering as part of the “Plan B” measures to introduce mandatory vaccine-only Covid passes to access settings such as indoor venues with 500 or more attendees, outdoor settings with 4,000 or more people, and any settings with 10,000 or more people.
The Covid passes would be proof that the bearer has been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Ministers shelved plans to introduce mandatory Covid passes by the end of September, but the possibility of them being used – along with mandatory face masks – risks a backbench revolt from Tory MPs that are opposed to the plans.
Mr Javid’s statement detailing England’s autumn and winter plan came after experts set out the case for a booster vaccination programme.
Third jabs will be offered to people aged 50 and over, those in care homes, and frontline health and social care workers from next week.
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will be used as the booster dose for around 30 million people, with experts saying it is safe to be given alongside the usual winter flu jab and to those who have previously had AstraZeneca Covid vaccines.
People will be able to get their Covid and flu vaccines on the same day, preferably with one shot in each arm.
Wales has also said it will begin a rollout of booster vaccines. Updates are expected from Scotland and Northern Ireland later on Tuesday.
All those who are clinically extremely vulnerable and anyone aged 16 to 65 in an at-risk group for Covid (who were included in priority groups one to nine during the initial vaccine rollout) will also be eligible for a jab.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) set out its findings, recommending that booster doses should be administered six months after the second jab.
When there is more data, the JCVI also plans to look at whether boosters should also be offered to healthy people under the age of 50.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer for England, told a Downing Street briefing: “We know that this pandemic is still active, we are not past the pandemic, we are in an active phase still.
“We know this winter could be bumpy at times and we know that winter viruses such as flu and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) are highly likely to make their returns.”