Covid-19: UK rules out shift to tighter restrictions under ‘Plan B’

Expert warns against complacency amid ‘worsening’ situation and rising cases

British prime minister Boris Johnson watches as Nitza Sarner (88) receives a Pfizer booster vaccination during a visit to the Covid-19 vaccine centre at the Little Venice Sports Centre in west London on Friday. Photograph: Matt Dunham/PA Wire

British prime minister Boris Johnson watches as Nitza Sarner (88) receives a Pfizer booster vaccination during a visit to the Covid-19 vaccine centre at the Little Venice Sports Centre in west London on Friday. Photograph: Matt Dunham/PA Wire

 

The UK government has ruled out an immediate move to its coronavirus Plan B, as an expert advising on jabs warned that the vaccination programme will not be enough to bring current infection rates under control.

British prime minister Boris Johnson, who has resisted pleas from health leaders for tighter restrictions despite the rising number of Covid-19 cases, said vaccines would get the country through the winter and out of the pandemic.

Prof Adam Finn, who is on the Joint Committee of Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), warned against complacency in what he said was a “worsening” situation.

He said people needed to be testing themselves, wearing masks and avoiding crowds in enclosed spaces in order to prevent “a real meltdown”.

Health secretary Sajid Javid said this week that new cases could reach 100,000 a day, but Downing Street has insisted there is still spare capacity in the NHS and that Plan B will only be activated if it comes under “significant pressure”.

Plan B includes working-from-home guidance and the mandatory use of face masks.

Asked if it is time to bring in Plan B to tackle coronavirus, chancellor Rishi Sunak said “at the moment the data does not suggest that we should be immediately moving to Plan B”.

He told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show: “Well, the prime minister actually just said that we’re looking at the data all the time, as you would expect us to.

“We’re monitoring everything, but at the moment the data does not suggest that we should be immediately moving to Plan B, but of course we will keep an eye on that and the plans are ready.”

Vaccines minister Maggie Throup said Plan A was “working” and “where we need to be”.

Asked where case numbers would have to get to before the public would be asked to work from home, Ms Throup told LBC: “The public has been very patient in doing what we’ve asked them to do.

“And I think Plan A has actually opened up people’s lives and that’s so important because if we do need to take further measures I’m sure they’ll have appreciated exactly the freedoms we’ve been able to offer them at this time.

“Plan A is working, as I said, the data right now shows that Plan A is working.”

The government has launched a media blitz encouraging people to get a booster jab, and is encouraging those not yet vaccinated to do so.

Chief executive of NHS England Amanda Pritchard tweeted on Sunday afternoon: “Yesterday was the biggest day yet for Covid booster jabs: more than 325,000 people getting vital protection.

“In the past three days over 800,000 people have had their booster jab.”

Prof Finn said that while vaccines were very effective at stopping people from getting seriously ill, they were not so effective at stopping infections altogether or stopping the virus from spreading.

“They do have an effect on that, but they’re not by themselves going to be enough at the present time to keep the spread of the virus under control,” he said.

“And we do need to see people continuing to make efforts to avoid contact, to avoid transmission, and to do other things as well as get vaccinated if we’re going to stop this rise from going up further,” he told Trevor Phillips on Sunday on Sky News.

Prof Finn added: “I would like to re-emphasise the fact that the vaccine programme by itself, in the current situation, even if things go optimally, is not, in my opinion, enough to bring things under control.

“We do need to have people using lateral flow tests, avoiding contact with large numbers of people in enclosed spaces, using masks, all of those things now need to happen if we’re going to stop this rise and get things under control soon enough to stop a real meltdown in the middle of the winter.”

His comments came after another prominent adviser to the Government on Covid-19 said he was “very fearful” there would be another “lockdown Christmas” as he urged the public to do everything possible to reduce transmission of the virus.

Prof Peter Openshaw, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said case numbers and death rates were currently “unacceptable”.

He said measures such as working from home and mask-wearing were “so important” as part of efforts to control the spread of Covid-19.

Prof Openshaw also advised people to “take matters into your own hands”, telling BBC Breakfast on Saturday: “Don’t wait necessarily for Government policy.” – PA