Omicron in retreat but Covid not over yet, says Sajid Javid as he scraps precautions

Health Secretary spells out plan to live with virus long-term

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Wednesday 19 January 2022 18:04 GMT

The Omicron variant of "in retreat" but the Covid-19 pandemic is "not over yet", Sajid Javid has said.

The health secretary was speaking on Wednesday evening as he confirmed that the government would be scrapping its 'Plan B' regulations.

Masks will no longer be mandatory in shops or on public transport and vaccine passes will not be required for mass events. But restrictions on travel and a requirement to self-isolate will remain for now.

Boris Johnson earlier in the day announced the changes to MPs in the House of Commons.

"This plan has worked and the data shows that Omicron is in retreat," Mr Javid said at a news conference later in the day.

The health secretary described the relaxation of measures as a "major milestone", and added:

"But it's not the end of the road and we shouldn't see this as the finish line because we cannot eradicate this virus and its future variants.

"Instead we must learn to live with Covid in the same way we have to live with flu. And we will be setting out our long-term plan for living with Covid-19 this spring."

Discussing his future plan to "live with Covid", the health secretary told a press conference at Downing Street: "The way we are going to do this is we're going to have to find a way to remove almost all of these restrictions and get life completely back to normal but with one or two really big things that I think will be there for a while.

"That is I think probably the need to vaccinate, I can't tell you how often that will be, but I think vaccinations will remain hugely important just as we have to have annual vaccinations protecting older people against flu.

"I think antivirals and treatments will continue to play a big role, especially for those that might be more exposed, and I think testing, it's great where we are today with testing and I think it will improve over time.

"These pharmaceutical defences of the vaccines, antivirals, monoclonal antibodies, and testing, I think they will be the cornerstone of our future defences."

At the same event, Mr Javid also confirmed that at-risk children under the age of 12 would now be vaccinated for Covid-19.

The cabinet minister said that the government's JCVI advisory committee says "that we should vaccinate under-12s that are at risk and that is exactly what we plan to do".

He added: "We will start that this month, but they are keeping that under review to see if we should expand that more broadly to everyone in that cohort".

The latest data released on 19 January showed 359 deaths from Covid-19 were reported in the previous 24 hours, with 1,865 from the virus in the previous seven days. A further 108,069 people tested positive, with 652,469 having done so in the last seven days.

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