‘I WANT to set out our plan for Covid this winter and in many ways the situation we face is even more challenging than last year,’ Tory PM Johnson said at a press briefing yesterday afternoon.
‘Infection rates are higher than ever,’ he admitted, ‘but we have the British people better protected and able to cope with this disease due to our vaccination programme.
‘We will keep further measures in reserve … “Plan B”. We will not use Covid certification (vaccine passports) now, but it would not be wise to rule out this Covid certification programme if it is needed in the future to keep pubs, clubs and businesses at full capacity.
‘We are now offering jabs for 12-15 year-olds. For over 50s we are motoring ahead with the booster programme, a third dose six months after your second.
‘Covid is still out there, the disease still remains a risk, but I am confident that we can keep going with our plan to turn jabs, jabs, jabs into jobs, jobs, jobs and protect the gains that we have made together.’
Earlier, England’s deputy Chief Medical Officer, Prof Jonathan Van-Tam said that his team, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), had recommended that a Covid-19 booster jab programme for the over-50s should proceed.
In Parliament, Health Secretary Sajid Javid outlined five pillars to the ‘Covid prevention plan’ for this winter which he said would ‘give people the best possible chance of living with Covid without the need for strict social and economic restrictions.
‘The first pillar’ he said ‘is our pharmaceutical defences to the virus like the vaccine’.
Javid’s second ‘pillar’ is that contact tracing will continue through the NHS test and trace system, and the third is to ‘support the NHS and social care’.
The fourth is social distancing measures, where people will still have to wear a face mask in crowded places.
Javid said his fifth pillar is how ‘we will maintain our strong defences at the border.’
Labour’s shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: ‘Infection levels today are actually higher than they were at this time last year. So the test of his plan A and his plan B is whether we can push infections down, minimise sickness and save lives, keep schools open, protect care homes, maintain access to all care in the National Health Service and avoid a winter lockdown.’
He confirmed Labour ‘welcomes and supports both the booster jabs and the jabs for school pupils.’
However, on this winter plan, the Royal College of Nurses (RCN) General Secretary and Chief Executive Pat Cullen said: ‘The government has relied on the goodwill of nursing staff for far too long.
‘When the Prime Minister speaks, he should be mindful that nursing staff have been under intense pressure this summer – and this pressure has been exacerbated by tens of thousands of vacancies.’
Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said: ‘The decision by the Chief Medical Officers to encourage the take up of vaccinations by 12-15 year olds will be another tool to help pupils sustain their access to education throughout the autumn and winter.
‘While we recognise that a decision on vaccinating children needed careful evidential judgement, it would have been better if a decision could have been made earlier during the summer holidays.
‘It will now be well into the autumn before the impact of the vaccination programme will be felt. Schools must be given timely and clear guidance for the next steps.’