The public must play its part to prevent future Covid-19 restrictions becoming necessary, the Health Secretary has said as he ruled out implementing the Government’s “Plan B” for the moment.
In his first-ever Downing Street press conference, Mr Javid said people must get their Covid-19 vaccines and any booster shots, as well as doing things like wearing masks in crowded places.
Asked if people face a tightening of restrictions if they do not get boosters or take care indoors, Mr Javid said: “Am I saying that if we don’t do our bit, get vaccinated, all those behavioural changes that we can make, that we are more likely to face restrictions as we head into winter…? Then I am saying that.
“I think we’ve been really clear that we’ve all got a role to play.
“If not enough people get their booster jabs, if not enough of those people that were eligible for the original offer, the five million I’ve talked about that remain unvaccinated, if they don’t come forward, if people don’t wear masks when they really should in a really crowded place with lots of people that they don’t normally hang out with, if they’re not washing their hands and stuff, it’s going to hit us all.
“And it would of course make it more likely we’re going to have more restrictions. Now we want to avoid those.
“We’ve set out what those restrictions might look like, we’ve set out the Plan B restrictions for example, and we all want to avoid those.
“So we’ve all got a role to play. We can do it, because we’ve already done it…And so, if you’re invited for a vaccination then please take it up. Please, please.
“We’ve got plenty of vaccines, and we just need people to come forward and play their part to help us to keep defeating this virus and going ahead and getting more and more back to normal each day.”
Earlier, the Health Secretary repeated his warning that Covid-19 cases could reach 100,000 a day as the country enters a challenging winter period.
He said the UK was seeing “greater pressure” on the NHS but the Government will “do what it takes to make sure that this pressure doesn’t become unsustainable, and that we don’t allow the NHS to become overwhelmed.”
Deaths “remain mercifully low” at the moment, he said, but added: “We’ve always known that the winter months would pose the greatest threat to our road to recovery.”
Mr Javid urged people to have their vaccines, including Covid boosters and jabs for flu, and said: “If we all play our part, then we can give ourselves the best possible chance in this race, get through this winter, and enjoy Christmas with our loved ones.”
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation which represents health bodies, had warned “we risk stumbling into a winter crisis” unless measures such as face masks and vaccine passports – the Government’s “Plan B” for the coming months – are introduced in England.
He called for ministers to come up with a “Plan C” of even tougher restrictions if those measures are insufficient to address pressure on the health service.
Latest Government figures show that a further 179 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Wednesday.
As of 9am on Wednesday, there had been a further 49,139 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases in the UK.
Hospital admissions stand at 868 on average per day over the last seven days, up from 780 a week earlier, a rise of 11%.
Mr Javid told the press conference the Government was concerned about the number of cases, but that vaccines were “clearly working” when it came to hospital admissions and deaths.
Asked about unsustainable pressure on the health service, he said: “We don’t believe that the pressures that are currently faced by the NHS are unsustainable.
“Don’t get me wrong, there are huge pressures especially in A&E, in primary care, for example, as well, but at this point we don’t believe they are unsustainable.
“If we feel at any point it’s becoming unsustainable then the department, together with our friends in the NHS, we won’t hesitate to act.”
Mr Javid reiterated that the Government will not be implementing its Plan B strategy “at this point”.
He added: “We’ll be staying vigilant, preparing for all eventualities while strengthening our vital defences that can help us fight back against this virus.”
Also in the briefing, Dr Jenny Harries, the chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said the UK is going into winter with a “really high level” of cases.
“What we can see is that the cases now are almost as high as they were in July and actually not far off where they were last winter,” she said.
“What we are not seeing is that dip down again at the other side of the peak and that is really important because we are kicking off the winter at a really high level of cases.
“Fortunately that is not currently working through into serious disease and deaths.”
However, she later said the last two days have seen the highest death rates for some time, adding that the number of deaths are “moving in the wrong direction”.
But Dr Harries said “quite small behavioural changes in all of us” could bring the reproductive value (the R number) down.
Addressing people who have been fully vaccinated, she said: “Don’t think not to wear a face covering, put a face covering on.
“You may be carrying an infection with you and not know. It’s really important.
“We’ve got a natural break, if you like, coming up ahead with half-term.
“Children have largely had infection and so if people adopt those behaviours and we keep the vaccination rates up and children are going forward to get their vaccinations as well over the half-term, then I think that R rate can, we can all tip it down under one.”
Later, asked if people should have second thoughts about going to parties as the festive season approaches, Mr Javid said the UK is “heading back to normal” – but is not there yet.
He also recommends taking lateral flow tests before attending get-togethers, or visiting potentially vulnerable people.
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