Ministers faced a backlash on Sunday night over plans to extend the Government's shielding programme to some over-50s this winter.
Tory MPs and business leaders warned that telling over-50s to stay at home risked damaging the economy and ran contrary to Boris Johnson's plea for workers to get back to the office.
The Prime Minister is expected to reintroduce shielding for those most at risk from coronavirus as long as the danger of a second wave remains, and will expand the list of people advised to take self-protection measures once the cold weather arrives.
Anyone over 50 who is obese, overweight or in ill health is likely to receive an individually tailored letter in the autumn warning them that they are at increased risk and advising them of steps to take to protect themselves.
In the most serious cases this will include advice to stay at home, but under a grading system of different measures those with less serious risks could be told to reduce social contact, shop during "shielding hours" or avoid public transport.
Lists of those at risk will be based on medical records held by the NHS.
Mr Johnson himself could be drawn into the net, as he is in his mid-50s and has admitted to being overweight. The fact that he has survived coronavirus would not necessarily count in his favour, as evidence of immunity remains uncertain.
Sarah Vine, the newspaper columnist and wife of the Cabinet minister Michael Gove, said of the over-50s shielding plan: "We are the backbone of the nation, economically and socially.
"We look after the elderly and the young. We pay the most taxes. Lock us up and everything grinds to a halt. You can't eliminate all risk. Not if we want to still have a country at the end of this…
"We are all going to die sooner or later. I don't expect the country to destroy itself to save my sorry ass."
Businesswoman Dame Helena Morrissey, who was nominated for a peerage by Boris Johnson last week, replied to Ms Vine on Twitter: "This is becoming insane Sarah. I can’t believe what is happening. REAL life is not 'following the science', and the science is actually a lot more nuanced and uncertain than the official approach/PR. Imagine allowing people to take actual responsibility (all of it) themselves!"
Ministers proposing the scheme say it will apply to far more people than the 2.2 million who were told to shield from March onwards, but would be more "sophisticated" and tailored to individual circumstances.
People in their 70s, for instance, may be told to carry on as normal if they are in good health, while even those in the existing shielding category will be allowed more freedom if their health conditions are at the less serious end of the scale.
However, Matt Kilcoyne, the deputy director of the Adam Smith Institute think tank, said: "The Government's messaging on this is muddled and they risk creating the worst of both possible worlds.
"For middle-aged and nearing retirement individuals, they've built their experiences through the recession, the busts and booms, the dot com bubble, Thatcher and the seventies of stagnation.
"These are people who have seen it all, who have as much experience of their company and much more experience than any politician will have experience running the country. Their experience should not be forsaken just because of their age."
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Treasurer of the 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers, said: "You've got some of the most experienced part of the workforce, who tend to be in the more senior positions and therefore running businesses and organisations.
"We've found that some people can work reasonably at home, but others have got a need to be at work supervising.
"I think it would look very odd, and for some companies it would look very difficult. If you're a manufacturing type company, you want people on the ground seeing what's going on, which is not the sort of thing you can do from home."
Civic leaders in Manchester declared a major incident at the weekend after coronavirus infection rates continued to climb.
Greater Manchester was placed back into partial lockdown last Thursday night after infection rates in some areas more than doubled in a week.
Declaring a major incident means the area can access extra national resources if needed.