Rishi Sunak says shops, pubs and restaurants must not shut again to deal with coronavirus, defying warnings from health experts who say the NHS could be overwhelmed this winter
Rishi Sunak has vowed Covid booster jabs will prevent another lockdown amid a surge in cases and fears the NHS could be overwhelmed this winter.
The Chancellor said shops, pubs and restaurants must not shut again to deal with coronavirus as the Government signalled that it would not bow to pressure to reimpose restrictions, or a “Plan B”‘.
Mr Sunak said the winter would be “challenging” but the vaccine would be the “first line of defence” in fighting Covid. It comes amid claims the rollout has been too slow.
Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed about one in 55 people in private households in England had Covid-19 in the week to October 16, up from one in 60 the previous week.
Daily Mirror/Andy Stenning)
In Wales, infection levels were unchanged, but have dropped in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The daily number of infections soared above 50,000 this week for the first time in three months.
And daily Covid hospitalisations breached 1,000 for the first time in six weeks on Friday.
Separate figures showed a further 180 people in the UK had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19, bringing the official UK total to 139,326.
Daily Mirror/Andy Stenning)
The former head of England’s coronavirus vaccine delivery drive has been drafted back into the job from Downing Street amid rising concern over the rates of coronavirus heading into winter.
Dr Emily Lawson had been behind the original success of the rollout of the Covid-19 jabs, but was seconded to No 10’s delivery unit – a team in charge of ensuring the Government delivers on its policies – in April.
But now, in a move which could indicate the pressure ministers expect the NHS to come under this winter, Dr Lawson has returned to the health service as it steels itself for the winter months.
The Chancellor said the country could not return to “significant economic restrictions” and that the vaccine rollout meant this was not necessary.
He said: “I think we’re just in a very different place to where we were a year ago because of the vaccine.
“There’s this enormous wave of protection, and that changes things. That’s our first line of defence.”
He added: “There’s a range of options that are available, and those are not options that involve lockdowns or very significant economic restrictions.”
It comes as scientific advisers told the Government that it must ensure “Plan B” restrictions to tackle coronavirus can be “rapidly” deployed if needed.
Experts on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said in minutes of a meeting published on Friday that a further huge spike in infections as seen in January was “increasingly unlikely”, as experts predicted a series of broader, flatter peaks as the virus continues to spread.
However, in its meeting dated October 14, Sage warned that measures from the Government’s Plan B would have greatest effect if brought in in unison and earlier on rather than later.
Scientists are in favour of a relatively light-touch approach, implemented earlier to make a difference, with Sage saying the “reintroduction of working-from-home guidance is likely to have the greatest individual impact on transmission out of the proposed measures” in Plan B, which also includes the mandatory use of face masks.
The group also advised that “policy work on the potential reintroduction of measures should be undertaken now so that it can be ready for rapid deployment”.
The Prime Minister also said on Friday that another lockdown was not planned.
On a visit to a vaccination centre in west London, Mr Johnson was asked whether a full lockdown with “stay at home” advice and shops closing was out of the question this winter, and he replied: “I’ve got to tell you at the moment that we see absolutely nothing to indicate that that’s on the cards at all.”
However, messaging urging people eligible to get the Covid booster jabs was being ramped up amid a lower enthusiasm than for the initial doses.
In a video posted on Twitter, Mr Johnson said: “This pandemic isn’t over and the danger hasn’t gone away. Cold weather helps the virus to spread and winter is a time when our NHS is under pressure anyway, so it’s just as vital to get your booster if you are called as it was to get your first and second jabs.”
The rollout of the first and second doses of the coronavirus vaccine across the country has been widely celebrated, however the uptake of booster vaccines has not been as swift.
Fewer than half of eligible residents in older age care homes in England have received a coronavirus booster jab, the latest available NHS data suggests.
An estimated 5.3 million booster doses of Covid-19 vaccine have been delivered in the UK.
It means around one in nine people in the UK who have received a first and second dose of vaccine are likely to have also received a booster.