Prime Minister Boris Johnson to set out winter Covid plan - with focus on vaccines, not lockdowns
Boris Johnson is due to set out the Government’s plan to tackle Covid-19 over the coming winter months.
The Prime Minister will host a press conference next week, as a decision is expected on how to roll out a booster jab programme — with there being a reluctance to impose more lockdown restrictions, as seen last autumn and in January this year.
Mr Johnson is expected to say that vaccines will continue to be the first line of defence over the autumn and winter, a high-risk time for coronavirus as other respiratory illnesses circulate.
And in a move away from locking down the country, a number of powers allowing the Government to shut down sections of the economy in England are set to be repealed.
“Thanks to the efforts of the public, the NHS and our phenomenal vaccination programme, we reached Step 4 in our road map and life has returned to a sense of normality,” said Mr Johnson.
“These extraordinary times required necessary but intrusive measures. But I’m determined to get rid of any powers we no longer need because of our vaccine defences.
“I will set out the next phase in our Covid response shortly.”
The powers expected to be repealed under the Coronavirus Act include those allowing the closing down of the economy, the imposing of restrictions on events and gatherings, the power to temporarily close or restrict access to schools, and powers to detain infectious people.
The Government also expects the independent Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisation (JCVI) to recommend details of a jab booster programme next week.
There are plans in place to begin giving booster jabs to the most vulnerable as early as this month.
However, Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, whose team developed the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, said on Friday that he believes the priority should be to donate vaccines to countries where people are still awaiting a first dose.
His views have been echoed by his Oxford colleague Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert, who helped design the vaccine, and who said booster jabs may not be needed by everyone.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said on Thursday that the Pfizer and AstraZeneca jabs are safe to use as boosters, but the JCVI has yet to give its advice to ministers.
The JCVI has already said a third dose should be offered to people with severely weakened immune systems.
Several other countries, including the US, Israel, Hungary, Germany and France, have announced or have started third dose programmes for at least some of their citizens.
The UK’s chief medical officers are also drawing up advice to the government on whether children aged 12 to 15 should be vaccinated after the JCVI said the margin of benefit from vaccinating healthy children was too small to say they should receive a jab.
Meanwhile, it was reported that hundreds of thousands of long Covid patients were waiting up to six months to access clinics specifically set up to tackle the condition.
And The Mail on Sunday reported that PCR tests needed prior to travel will be scrapped, with the day two test required when returning from abroad to be replaced by a cheaper lateral flow test.
While the Observer reported that jabs for 12 to 15-year-olds would begin on September 22.
The focus on vaccination comes after reports that ministers were considering a so-called firebreak lockdown in October.
The i newspaper reported an unnamed member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) saying a “precautionary break” could be part of “contingency plans”.
But Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “I don’t think that’s something we need to consider.”
He said no decisions are “risk-free” but insisted the “best defence” against another wave of the virus is the vaccine programme.
A No 10 spokesman previously said it is not true that the Government is planning a lockdown or firebreak around the October half-term, but added that they have “retained contingency plans as part of responsible planning for a range of scenarios”.
They said: “These kind of measures would only be reintroduced as a last resort to prevent unsustainable pressure on our NHS.”