Sajid Javid says people can expect a 'normal Christmas', but do scientists agree?

Health Secretary Sajid Javid speaking to media during a visit to the Vale Medical Centre in Forest Hill, south east London, following the announcement of the blueprint for improving access to GP appointments and supporting GPs and their teams. Picture date: Thursday October 14, 2021. (Photo by Yui Mok/PA Images via Getty Images)
Sajid Javid said Christmas will be 'normal' this year. (Getty Images)

Britons can look forward to a "normal Christmas", the health secretary has said.

Sajid Javid said he and Boris Johnson both agreed the UK can expect a better Christmas than last year.

The prime minister said last week that there was “absolutely nothing to indicate [a winter lockdown] is on the cards at all".

Javid told BBC Breakfast: "For all those people like me that are hoping and planning for a normal Christmas – which I do by the way, I think that’s where we’ll be, we’ll have a normal Christmas – if we want, let’s just keep playing our part."

However, he also said no "sensible health secretary across the world would want to predict exactly where we’re going to be in three months’ time, or six months’ time”, as there was a risk of new COVID variants posing a problem.

So that's the government's position – but what do scientific experts think?

Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England

Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Whitty during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (Covid-19). Picture date: Monday July 12, 2021.
Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Whitty during a media briefing in Downing Street, London.

Prof Whitty has expressed concern about the Christmas period this year.

"I wish I could claim that the sunlit uplands and it’ll be fantastic by Christmas," he told the annual conference of the Royal College of GPs earlier this month.

"But sadly, I’m afraid that is not the case."

He added the NHS was facing an "exceptionally difficult" winter.

“In terms of where COVID will go over the winter, well I think the winter as a whole, I regret to say, is going to be exceptionally difficult for the NHS," he said.

"That is, irrespective of whether we have a relatively low but non-trivial amount of COVID, or whether we actually have a further surge in the winter."

Professor Neil Ferguson, epidemiologist and leading member of SAGE

Professor Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College London, speaking by video link to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee.
Professor Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College London, speaking by video link to the House of Lords science and technology committee.

The architect of the UK's original lockdowns has expressed concern about COVID this winter and suggested "Plan B" public health measures may need to be introduced.

“Coming into the winter, there may be a Plan B which needs to be implemented, which involves some rolling back of measures," said Prof Ferguson.

"But I doubt that we’ll ever get close to lockdown we were in January of this year.”

Professor Peter Openshaw, member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag)

Prof Openshaw told Radio 4's Today programme that current case rates were "unacceptable".

"What we’re facing at the moment is unacceptable – we’ve got roughly 1 in 55 people infected, which is an astonishingly high rate compared to most other West European countries," he said.

Last week, Openshaw urged the introduction of "Plan B" measures to avoid another potential Christmas lockdown.

“I’m very fearful that we’re going to have another lockdown Christmas if we don’t act soon," he told BBC Breakfast.

“We know that with public health measures the time to act is immediately. There’s no point in delaying.

"If you do delay then you need to take even more stringent actions later.

"The immediacy of response is absolutely vital if you’re going to get things under control."

File photo dated 27/01/21 of nurses changing their PPE on Ward 5, a Covid Red Ward, at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley. Personal protective equipment (PPE) worth �2.8 billion is not fit for purpose and cannot be used by the NHS, a health minister has revealed. Issue date: Friday September 17, 2021.
Professor Chris Whitty warned that the NHS faces a 'extraordinarily difficult winter'. (PA Images)

The government is also coming under increasing pressure from other sources to implement its "Plan B" strategy as case numbers continue to rise.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, last week urged the government to implement the plan.

“We are right on the edge – and it is the middle of October. It would require an incredible amount of luck for us not to find ourselves in the midst of a profound crisis over the next three months," he said.

Read more:

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“The government ought not just to announce that we’re moving to plan B, but it should be 'plan B plus'."

Labour shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves told The Andrew Marr Show that the opposition also supports the introduction of Plan B.

"We think we should follow the science – if the scientists are saying work from home and masks, we should do that," she said.

"If we don’t do these things the risk is that the virus gets out of control and that we have to introduce more stringent measures, which frankly nobody wants."

Watch: Government adviser fearful of another 'lockdown Christmas'