Minister says Covid deaths ‘very low’ and defends not implementing plan B measures

Health minister says focus should be on booster jab rollout and anti-viral treatment

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Friday 22 October 2021 08:30
<p>Health and social care minister Gillian Keegan</p>

Health and social care minister Gillian Keegan

A government minister has defended not implementing the plan B contingency measures to stem the spread of Covid, claiming death rates were “still very low”.

As cases topped 50,000 for the first time for three months, Gillian Keegan, a health and social care minister, also claimed the link between cases and deaths had been “broken” — despite government scientists repeatedly only going as far to say the link has been weakened.

Asked why the government was not putting in place plan B — as ministers also warn cases could reach 100,000 per day — Ms Keegan told Sky News: “We’ve laid down plan A and plan B, and we’ve just started five weeks ago with plan A.

“The most important thing: get that vaccine rolled out, get those booster rolled out.”

Ms Keegan said “of course” there was a plan B in reserve, involving mandatory face masks, working from home advice and vaccine passports, but insisted the government’s focus was on the booster jab programme and rolling out new anti-viral treatments for Covid.

“When we opened up on 19 July, we did that because we’d shown we’d broken the link between the cases and the deaths — and that’s still the case, the cases are high and obviously we’re not complacent about that, but the death rate is still are very low.”

According to official government figures, 912 deaths were recorded within 28 days of a positive test this week— up 10 per cent on the previous week. Hospitalisations are also recording with a 15 per cent rise on people being admitted from last week.

Ms Keegan was also quizzed about the lack of Conservative MPs wearing face masks in the Commons — before Sajid Javid, the health secretary, told a press conference that politicians should “set an example”.

“Throughout the summer not many of us have had masks on,” she said. “You’ll find more and more as we go into winter, people will be wearing masks. But we shouldn’t be making it this sign of virtue or not, people have to make sensible choices.”

Amid reports the delay between the second dose of the Covid vaccine and the booster jab could be reduced from six to five months, Ms Keegan stressed it would depend on the advice of the experts on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

In the Commons on Thursday, the government faced intense criticism from Labour for the “stalling” booster programme, while the former health secretary Jeremy Hunt urged ministers to look at cutting the wait between a second Covid jab and a booster.

“The JCVI look at all the data,” Ms Keegan said. “They’ve advised us six months. Of course they continually look at the data but they are the only people who can really answer this question.

“If they advise us, our job then would be to get ready to do whatever they say. But at the moment it is six months. It is not unknown, the JCVI have changes over periods of time and have reacted.”

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