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COVID - 19 21 Oct, 2021 Follow News


By Michael Jarvis, London UK


The UK, especially England, could face a reimposition of some COVID restrictions if cases continue to rise.

Hosting the first UK government COVID update press conference since September on Wednesday Health Secretary Sajid Javid sounded the warning as infections reached over 49,000, the highest since July this year and outstripping the rate for the same period last year.

He said while the government is reluctant to go that route it would not altogether rule it out if the situation worsens.

Placing emphasis on the UK’s successful vaccine rollout to date, Mr Javid however cautioned that the effectiveness of the two doses would start waning after six months and urged people to get their booster shots.

The UK’s mass COVID-19 vaccination programme started last December and peaked in the Spring of this year. There has been a noticeable slowing in uptake recently.

The Health Secretary is encouraging those not yet vaccinated to come forward to get their shots, including those eligible for the booster dose.

More than 49 million people have had a first vaccine dose - about 86% of over-12s, with around 45 million - about 79% of over-12s - having had both doses.

However, the vaccination rate has fallen with the number of first doses administered daily now averaging about 33,000 - far below a peak of around half a million in March this year.

Speaking on Wednesday, Mr Javid warned: "None of us want to go backwards now, so we must all play our part in this national mission".

He also issued a fresh plea for people to come forward for their COVID vaccinations and booster jabs, if they are eligible.

"We've got the jabs, we just need the arms to put them in," he added.

There is growing concern among medical experts in the UK that the recent surge in cases could get worse in the coming winter putting pressure on the country’s National Health Service(NHS) now forced to cope with a new wave of infections.

According to UK government figures, between July and October this year, there were just over three million cases, with 79,000 people ending up in hospital.

Compared to October and January last year, there were just over 2.7 million cases, but more than 185,000 people needed hospital treatment.

The vaccine rollout is largely responsible for the reduction in hospitalisations but with cases increasing again it is feared that this will put added pressure on the NHS which struggling to clear a huge backlog of other non-COVID illnesses.

There is also currently a serious flu outbreak putting further strain on NHS resources.

Against that background, some medical experts and agencies are calling on the government to initiate its ‘Plan B’ COVID restrictions to avoid the NHS becoming overwhelmed.

He had previously said the government could activate its Plan B restrictions if it felt the NHS came under what he had described as "unsustainable pressure".

Plan B entails, introducing mandatory Covid passports, making face coverings compulsory again, advising people to work from home and mounting a massive information campaign ‘communicating clearly and urgently to the public that the level of risk has increased, and that they need to behave more cautiously’.

On the latter point, Mr Javid said, “This pandemic is not over. We must all remember that this virus will be with us for the long-term and it remains a threat."

He placed the onus on the public to act responsibly “to protect each” other and prevent a further surge in cases.

That he said includes wearing face masks, practising hand hygiene and adhering to preventive protocols where they apply.

There has been a noticeable fall-off in mask-wearing.

The UK relaxed many restrictions sooner than most of the rest of Western Europe with people in England, Wales and Scotland able to go to nightclubs and attend sports and other events in unrestricted numbers since the summer.

The government advises the public to “wear face coverings in crowded and enclosed areas where you come into contact with people you do not usually meet”.

That is advisory and is not rigidly enforced which has led several health experts and organisations to call on the government to now make it and other measures mandatory over fears of the current spike in cases worsening.

The rate of mortality, although not at levels experienced earlier this year, is however again starting to rise with deaths averaging over 100 per day.

The Health Secretary says the situation is constantly being monitored, and while they are reluctant to institute tougher measures, the government will if it has to.

He appealed to people to come forward for their COVID vaccinations and booster jabs, and to take responsibility for their own safety especially when out and about.

“We think it is the right decision to learn to live with this virus... it’s asking people to take more responsibility.”

Mr Javid warned that COVID cases could hit 100,000 a day, but he confirmed England will not yet move to Plan B to deal with pressures on hospitals this winter.

"After the decisive steps that we've taken this year, none of us want to go backwards now,” he said.

“This pandemic is not over. We must all remember that this virus will be with us for the long-term and it remains a threat."

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