Vaccines are the way through winter, Boris Johnson insists amid warning NHS is approaching ‘tipping point’

One senior health official suggests ministers are ‘living in a parallel universe’

Sam Hancock
Saturday 23 October 2021 22:30
Boris Johnson says 'nothing to suggest winter lockdown on the cards'

Britons are once again being urged to take up Covid jabs and get their booster when called, with Boris Johnson insisting it is this that will guide the country “through the winter”.

The prime minister’s repeated call for people to get vaccinated comes as he continued to fight mounting pressure to enforce so-called Plan B restrictions despite a warning from doctors and nurses that the NHS is not far from a tipping point.

The tighter measures would include working-from-home guidance and the mandatory use of face masks.

Sajid Javid, the health secretary, said this week new cases could reach 100,000 a day but No 10 insisted there was still spare capacity in the NHS and that tighter measures would only be activated if hospitals came under “significant pressure”.

However, as The Independent revealed on Saturday night, the steady rise in Covid cases and the number of patients admitted to hospitals each day being close to 1,000 has left health workers concerned the country could be “three or four weeks away” from a serious problem if the rise remained unchecked.

One NHS chief, Sir Chris Ham, even suggested Mr Javid was living in a “parallel universe”.

In a “call to everyone” on Saturday night, Mr Johnson said Britain had made “phenomenal progress but our job isn’t finished yet”.

“To keep yourself, your loved ones, and everyone around you safe, please get your booster when you get the call,” he continued. “We can and will beat this virus but only if we listen to the science and look out for each other.”

Mr Johnson added: “Whether you’re eligible for a booster, haven’t got round to your second dose yet, or your child is eligible for a dose – vaccines are safe, they save lives, and they are our way out of this pandemic.”

Some four million booster doses have already been administered in the UK – and the National Booking Service had its busiest week of booster bookings, with nearly half a million jabs booked on Wednesday and Thursday alone.

Alongside the PM’s statement, Downing Street warned the next few months “will lead to the increased transmission of viruses” but assured the public “vaccines are our best line of defence”.

The government also stressed: “The booster programme is designed to top up waning immunity [recent studies suggest protection against death falls from 95 per cent to 80 per cent for AstraZeneca after six months, and from 99 to 90 for Pfizer] for those most at risk over the winter months.”

“This additional protection is vital, and everyone aged over 50 or who is at high risk from Covid will be invited for their booster jab six months after their second dose,” officials added.

Elsewhere, the World Health Organisation struck a different tone to Mr Johnson when they warned the vaccine alone will not be able to lift the world out of the pandemic.

Spokesperson Margaret Harris told Times Radio: “The problem is focusing on one thing, the vaccine isn’t going to get us out of this. We really have to do other measures.

“We have got to be serious about not crowding. We have still got to be looking at wearing the masks, when you’re indoors particularly.”

Professor Peter Openshaw, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), added case numbers and death rates are currently “unacceptable”.

He said measures such as working from home and mask wearing are “so important” as part of efforts to control the spread of Covid.

Prof Openshaw, of Imperial College London, told BBC Breakfast: “I’m very fearful that we’re going to have another lockdown Christmas if we don’t act soon. We know that with public health measures the time to act is immediately. There’s no point in delaying.”

He continued: “We all really, really want a wonderful family Christmas where we can all get back together. If that’s what we want, we need to get these measures in place now in order to get transmission rates right down so that we can actually get together and see one another over Christmas.”

And in an apparent nod to the busy months ahead for the NHS, the former head of England’s Covid vaccine rollout has been drafted back into the job amid the concern over rising case numbers. Dr Emily Lawson has returned to the health service after being seconded to No 10’s delivery unit.

A further 135 people died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Saturday, bringing the UK’s total to 139,361, according to the latest government figures.

There were also 44,985 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases in the UK in the last 24-hour period, the figures show.

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