Watch: How does Boris Johnson plan to avoid another winter lockdown?
Boris Johnson has outlined his winter COVID strategy for England.
The government confirmed that over-50s in the UK – as well as those in other vulnerable groups – would be offered a booster vaccine, as part of efforts to "live with" coronavirus in the coming months.
Speaking at a Downing Street press conference with chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance, the PM urged the public to be “sensible and responsible” to keep the virus at bay.
Johnson said his government was moving forward with a package of measures he dubbed "Plan A" – but added a "Plan B" may be necessary if the COVID situation deteriorates.
“COVID is still out there,” he said. “The disease sadly still remains a risk, but I’m confident we can keep going with our plan and turn jabs, jabs, jabs into jobs, jobs, jobs.”
While the prime minister did not outline exactly what would trigger a move to Plan B, Whitty said a decision would depend on absolute numbers of patients going into hospital; rates of infection, and the overall state of the NHS.
So, what do these plans look like?
The government's key strategy for controlling the virus this week is a major COVID vaccine booster campaign.
Third jabs will be offered to frontline health and social care workers, as well as those aged 50 and over.
The prime minister described this as “building even higher walls of vaccine protection in this country”.
This means that more than 30 million people will be called forward for a third jab.
In addition to the rollout, face coverings in enclosed space, indoors, or when meeting people you don’t know will be advised.
The government will also urge people to meet outdoors, or open windows while indoors, as winter begins and people are more likely to spend time indoors in spaces with poor ventilation.
The public are also asked to continue to practice good personal hygiene, stay at home if feeling unwell, and to download and use the NHS COVID-19 app.
While not mandatory at this stage, businesses will be encouraged to ask customers to show COVID passes.
The government also added they intend to pursue an “international approach” by helping vaccinate low income countries, sending 100 million doses abroad by June 2022, as well as maintaining COVID border measures.
The prime minister and health secretary also outlined their Plan B, which would be triggered if the situation deteriorates and the NHS is unable to cope.
The PM warned that Plan B could come into effect at short notice.
This would involved the introduction of controversial COVID passes for entrance to certain settings such as nightclubs, large sporting events, or crowded settings with more than 500 people, with Johnson saying “it’s just not sensible to rule out completely this kind of option”.
The reintroduction of mandatory face coverings in public indoor or enclosed settings would also form part of the plan, alongside urgent messaging to the public of the increased risk and need to behave more carefully.
However, guidance on a return to working from home was not a key part of the government’s strategy, despite a report released by the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, Operational sub-group (SPI-M-O) on Tuesday stating home working is a key part of suppressing the virus.
What about a winter lockdown?
When it comes to further lockdowns, the government insist they do not want a return to the harsh restrictions of previous waves, but they have not ruled them out entirely.
The winter plan states: "These contingency measures should be sufficient to reverse a resurgence in autumn or winter, the nature of the virus means it is not possible to give guarantees.
"The government remains committed to taking whatever action is necessary to protect the NHS from being overwhelmed but more harmful economic and social restrictions would only be considered as a last resort."
Sajid Javid told parliament on Tuesday that, while he had confidence in the government’s winter plan, ministers could only offer the “best possible chance” of avoiding further lockdowns.
This was something echoed by vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi earlier in the day, who said lockdowns this winter would be an “absolutely last resort”.
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