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A surge in Covid-19 cases this winter could see people in England ordered to wear face masks and show passes to prove their vaccination status, Sajid Javid has said.
The Health Secretary said the measures are part of a “Plan B” if efforts to control the spread of coronavirus – including a massive booster vaccination programme – are not effective.
The contingency plans will only be activated if there is “unsustainable” pressure on the NHS in England, Mr Javid said.
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As part of the “Plan A” for autumn and winter:
– A booster vaccination campaign will begin next week for millions of people who received jabs in phase one of the rollout.
– Mr Javid said it is “highly likely” that frontline NHS staff and those in wider social care settings will need to have Covid-19 and flu vaccinations in order to be deployed, measures which are currently subject to consultation.
– People will be encouraged to meet outdoors or open windows if indoors, wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed settings, wash their hands frequently, and use the NHS Covid-19 app.
– Businesses are urged to consider using the Covid pass to check the vaccination or test status of customers.
Mr Javid told MPs: “The plan shows how we’ll give this nation the best possible chance of living with Covid without the need for stringent social and economic restrictions.”
But he added: “We have seen how quickly this virus can adapt and change so we have prepared a Plan B of contingency measures that we can call upon only if they are needed and supported by the data to prevent unsustainable pressure on the NHS.”
Those measures could include:
– Communicating clearly and urgently to the public that the level of risk has increased, and with it the need to behave more cautiously.
– Introducing mandatory vaccine-only Covid-pass use in settings including nightclubs; indoor venues with 500 or more attendees likely to be in close proximity to others, such as music concerts; outdoor settings with 4,000 or more people, such as festivals; and any settings with 10,000 or more people, such as sports events.
– A legal requirement to wear face coverings in some settings.
– Advice to work from home.
Ministers shelved plans to introduce mandatory Covid passes by the end of September, but the possibility of them being used – along with mandatory face masks – risks a backbench revolt from Tory MPs.
The autumn and winter plan states that the contingency measures “should be sufficient to reverse a resurgence” but “the nature of the virus means it is not possible to give guarantees”.
It says “more harmful economic and social restrictions would only be considered as a last resort”.
Fresh legislation would be required if further lockdowns are needed, risking a Tory revolt.
The Health Secretary’s statement detailing England’s autumn and winter plan came after experts set out the case for a booster vaccination programme.
Vaccines will be offered to people aged 50 and over, those in care homes, and frontline health and social care workers from next week.
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will be used as the booster dose for around 30 million people, with experts saying it is safe to be given alongside the usual winter flu jab.
People will be able to get their Covid and flu vaccines on the same day, preferably with one shot in each arm.
Wales has also said it will begin a rollout of booster vaccines. Updates are expected from Scotland and Northern Ireland later on Tuesday.
All those who are clinically extremely vulnerable and anyone aged 16 to 65 in an at-risk group for Covid (who were included in priority groups one to nine during the initial vaccine rollout) will also be eligible for a jab.
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The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) set out its findings, recommending that booster doses should be administered six months after the second jab.
When there is more data, the JCVI also plans to look at whether boosters should also be offered to healthy people under the age of 50.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer for England, told a Downing Street briefing: “We know that this pandemic is still active, we are not past the pandemic, we are in an active phase still.
“We know this winter could be bumpy at times and we know that winter viruses such as flu and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) are highly likely to make their returns.”
The new guidance from the JCVI appears to differ from its interim guidance published in June.
The interim guidance said anyone over 16 who qualifies for a seasonal flu jab would be included in the booster campaign, which would have included millions of people with asthma.