Covid: Sajid Javid plays down need for ‘plan B’ restrictions as cases rise in parts of Europe

‘We’ve got Plan A, and that’s where we firmly are at the moment,” health secretary says

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Sunday 21 November 2021 16:46
‘Look forward to Christmas together’: Javid plays down need for plan B Covid measures

Sajid Javid has played down the need for the introduction of plan B Covid restrictions in England as parts of Europe reimpose measures in response to a surge in transmissions.

The health secretary suggested the government was sticking “firmly” with the existing plan A – concentrating on the rollout of booster jabs – but stressed that ministers remained “cautious, not complacent”.

As the booking system for boosters for 40-49 year-olds opens up on Monday, Mr Javid also hinted there could be further extension to younger adults if advised by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). “If it makes sense to go further, we will,” he said.

Cases of Covid in the UK have been running at high levels since large swathes of restrictions were lifted in the summer, with the latest government figures showing over 40,000 new cases of the virus recorded on Sunday.

Pressed on Sky News whether the government should be “dusting off” its plan B measures, which include mandatory face coverings, working from home advice and domestic vaccine passports, the health secretary emphasised the importance of the booster programme.

He said: “We made a tough decision at the start of the summer – others countries didn’t follow our course – and we decided that of course we want to start opening up and if you’re going to do that it’s best to do it in the summer. Other countries in Europe didn’t do that.

“But in terms of any other potential measures, we’ve said all along that we’ve got Plan A, and that’s where we firmly are at the moment,” the cabinet minister stressed.

“If we needed to take further measures with Plan B then we would do so, but we’re not at that point.”

With some parts of mainland Europe experiencing a surge in infections – and the reintroduction of lockdown in Austria – Mr Javid added: “As we all look forward to Christmas, it’s very sad to see cases surging in certain parts of Europe.

“Now we’ve always known that this virus loves the winter, it likes the colder darker days that winter brings and we need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to protect ourselves against that.

“What’s made a real difference in the UK is our booster programme, our hugely successful booster programme.”

Sir Andrew Pollard, the head of the Oxford Vaccine Group, suggested it was “unlikely” Britain would see a sharp rise similar to parts of Europe in the coming months, telling the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show: “We’ve actually had some spread going on since the summer.

“I think it’s unlikely we’re going to see the very sharp rise in the next few months that’s just been seen – we’re already ahead of that, with this particular virus, the Delta variant”.

His view was echoed by Professor John Edmunds, of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), who said over the weekend the UK was unlikely to be hit in the same way as Europe, because it “is in a slightly different position”.

“Frankly here in the UK, we’ve had high rates of infection for many months now so we’re in a slightly different position to Austria and Germany and so on,” he said. “I don’t think things will quite happen in the same way here as they have done there. But it is a warning to us.”

Mr Javid also insisted on Sunday there was “no plan” to increase travel restrictions and stressed that the UK would never look at mandatory vaccines for the general population – following protests against plans for similar measures in Austria.

“It is up to Austria, other countries, to decide what they need to do. We are fortunate that in this country, although we have vaccine hesitancy, it is a lot lower than we are seeing in other places,” Mr Javid said.

He added: “I just think on a practical level, taking a vaccine should be a positive choice. It should be something, if people are a bit reluctant, we should work with them and encourage them.”

“In terms of mandatory vaccines for the general population I don’t think that is something we would ever look at.”

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