Boris Johnson says hospitals under pressure for next few weeks but Plan B unchanged

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  • Boris Johnson
    Boris Johnson
    Prime Minister of the United Kingdom since 2019

Watch: Boris Johnson warns it would be 'absolute folly' to say pandemic is over

Boris Johnson is holding out on introducing further Covid measures.

The pressure on the NHS for the “next couple of weeks and maybe more” is going to be “considerable”, the Prime Minister has said but he said the plan is unchanged.

Speaking on a visit to a vaccination hub in the Guttman Centre at Stoke Mandeville Stadium in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, he said the Omicron variant of coronavirus is “plainly milder” than other strains.

But he said “there’s no question Omicron continues to surge through the country”.

He added: “I think we’ve got to recognise that the pressure on our NHS, on our hospitals, is going to be considerable in the course of the next couple of weeks, and maybe more.”

Mr Johnson said the booster programme and Plan B measures made a difference.

He added: “There are still quite a lot of people who have had two jabs, but haven’t had the third. The third jab really does make a big, big difference.”

Boris Johnson said continuing with booster vaccinations is the “way forward for the country as a whole” and urged people to “build up defences” by getting their booster dose.

The Prime Minister advised the public to take Covid tests “before meeting people you don;t usually meet” and work from home if possible, as he insisted the current measures were the right ones to manage transmission. 

Mr Johnson continued: “I think the way forward for the country as a whole is to continue with the path that we’re on. We’ll will keep everything under review. 

“The mixture of things that we’re doing at the moment is, I think, the right one.

“So, number one, continue with Plan B, make sure that people take it seriously, do what we can to stop the spread, use the Plan B measures, work from home if you can, wear a mask on public transport… take a test before going out to meet people you don’t normally meet, think about the the requirements under Plan B, but also get the boost.”

It comes after ministers said there is “nothing” in the data to indicate further Covid curbs are necessary at present.

Watch: Concern as number of over-50s in hospital rises

MPs will review the current Covid restrictions on Wednesday.

In an interview on Monday, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said there was nothing in the data to suggest restrictions need to go further.

He told Sky News: “At the moment, there is nothing in the data that would suggest to me, to us, that we need to go further”. 

Instead, the Prime Minister Johnson reportedly has asked ministers to work around the clock to develop “robust contingency plans” for possible worst-case scenarios. 

Steve Barclay, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, insisted there are no plans to introduce fresh restrictions due to the success of Plan B measures.

Cabinet Office minister Steve Barclay is leading contingency planning (PA Archive)
Cabinet Office minister Steve Barclay is leading contingency planning (PA Archive)

Mr Barclay said: “The Government has been meeting over the Christmas period to prepare for every eventuality.

“Obviously, we have seen significant absences during the period prior to this, but it’s important that those contingency plans are refreshed and that we take measures to mitigate those impacts.”

He added: “Of course, we keep the data under review, but we’ve seen significant behaviour change as a result of Plan B. The widespread use of testing is an illustration of the fact that the British public are taking sensible steps to keep themselves safe, to keep their friends and family safe.”

Health minister Ed Argar said the Government was “doing the responsible and sensible thing” by asking the public sector to prepare for a worst-case scenario of up to a quarter of staff off work.

Mr Argar said on Sunday he saw “nothing” in the current data to suggest further measures were needed at present.

He told Times Radio: “Restrictions or curbs must be the absolute last resort. I’m seeing nothing at the moment in the data I have in front of me, in the immediate situation, that suggests a need for further restrictions. But that data changes day by day.”

MPs are due to return to the Commons on Wednesday following the Christmas recess. The Government are set to review its Plan B measures on the same date. 

It comes as 137,583 Covid-19 cases were recorded in England and Wales on Sunday, according to official figures.

Official figures show that 110,000 NHS staff were off sick on New Year’s Eve, with almost 50,000 because of Covid.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi (PA Wire)
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi (PA Wire)

Meanwhile, the Education Secretary announced new measures for schools

Secondary school students are being asked to carry out lateral flow tests twice a week as students return to the classroom. 

Face masks will also need to be worn when schools re-open. 

Zahawi said: “Being in face to face learning is undoubtedly the very best place for children and young people’s education and wellbeing, and my priority remains on keeping early years settings, schools, colleges and universities open so that face-to-face education can continue.”

Last month, the Government urged schools to ask former teachers to temporarily return to the classroom to help ease staffing shortages.

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