COVID-19: Boris Johnson to unveil winter plan warning 'the pandemic is far from over'

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·4-min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Watch: Boris Johnson to unveil winter plan warning 'the pandemic is far from over'

An ambitious winter plan to fight COVID-19 - including booster jabs and flu vaccinations for millions - will be unveiled by Boris Johnson later.

The prime minister is promising a bonfire of lockdown restrictions, but will keep the threat of compulsory face masks and vaccine passports in reserve.

And other restrictions such as compulsory home working and social distancing are not being ruled out if there is a sudden jump in COVID cases.

In a Downing Street address, Mr Johnson will declare that he is firmly opposed to another lockdown and suggest that the UK must learn to live with COVID now all adults have been offered a vaccine.

Other changes are expected to include axing the "traffic light" system for overseas travel, scrapping post-holiday PCR tests for the double jabbed, and fewer "red list" high-risk countries.

The winter plan follows a late-night Commons announcement by Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi that the government has approved a recommendation by UK medical officers to offer a vaccine to 12-15 year olds.

"The pandemic is far from over," Mr Johnson warned ahead of a Commons statement by Health Secretary Sajid Javid and a Downing Street news conference at which he will spell out his plans.

"But thanks to our phenomenal vaccine programme, new treatments and testing, we are able to live with the virus without significant restrictions on our freedoms.

"Today I will set out a clear plan for the autumn and winter, when the virus has a natural advantage, to protect the gains we have made."

Watch: Booster jabs 'set for go-ahead next week' - but vaccine creator says not everyone may need them

The booster scheme will mean a third vaccine dose for millions of older people to slow winter infections, with over-80s and vulnerable groups first in line, followed by all over-50s.

The government says its autumn and winter plan will set out a renewed focus on vaccines as the first line of defence, supported by testing, public health advice and surveillance.

Claiming the UK's vaccines are highly effective, the prime minister will reveal that analysis by Public Health England suggests two doses led to the prevention of 24,702,000 infections and 112,300 deaths up to 27 August.

Ministers have now received the final advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation on the booster programme, which is expected to be launched later this month.

Mr Johnson will set out how the programme will be rolled out to the most vulnerable, but emphasise that the booster programme is separate to the third primary dose programme for those who have a weaker immune system and find it harder to fight infections.

Responding to claims that they have been slow to act, ministers insist all evidence and data has been consistently kept under review, with the plan representing the latest advice for controlling the virus.

Ministers also claim that in England, the number of deaths and hospitalisations has remained relatively stable over the last month.

As a result, the government is scaling back emergency COVID laws passed early in the pandemic now every adult has been offered a vaccine.

These will include the power to close or restrict access to schools, detain infectious people, restrict events and gatherings, or limit how large groups of people can be.

But to the dismay and anger of many Conservative MPs, the government plans to keep the Public Health Act powers, under which lockdowns were legally enforced, on the statute book.

Later in the week, the complicated traffic light system for travel, which has expanded to include a "green watchlist" and "amber plus", is likely to be replaced by just two categories, a red list where hotel quarantine remains and countries where travel is permitted.

The axing of costly PCR tests for double-jabbed people returning from overseas holidays will be widely welcomed. They will be replaced by cheaper lateral flow tests. And the number of "red list" countries - currently 62 - is likely to be significantly cut.

Ahead of the announcement, the Liberal Democrats called on the PM to guarantee that schools will not be shut again as part of the winter plan after the chaos of the last year.

"Our children have been failed by the Conservatives throughout this pandemic," claimed party leader Sir Ed Davey.

"Pupils have missed out on millions of days of vital teaching, and their parents have been left to pick up the pieces.

"Boris Johnson must give a cast-iron guarantee to parents that schools will remain open this winter so that younger generations aren't let down yet again."

And the Royal College of Nursing general secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen said: "The government must send the right message that it will support nursing staff by following the data when it comes to restrictions which can help protect the NHS and care services.

"As we enter the winter period, COVID case numbers are steadily increasing. Health and care services are already facing massive pressures with having to deliver the flu vaccination programme, treat patients with Long COVID and tackle the enormous backlog of NHS cases."

Watch: 'No clear evidence' that UK vaccine efficacy is fading

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting