A think tank run by former British prime minister Tony Blair has called on the UK to take action to prevent a surge in Covid-19 cases causing a winter crisis.
Ministers should set a target of delivering 500,000 Covid-19 booster shots a day, a report from the Tony Blair Institute said, amid fears a new wave of disease could overwhelm the NHS.
With case numbers rising, Mr Blair said the government needed to act “rapidly and decisively” to avoid the need for another lockdown as winter approaches.
A daily target for booster shots would mean reactivating the vaccine infrastructure set up earlier in the year and require the government to start using the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine for boosters.
The report said the government should also aim to ensure half of all of the 12 to 15 age group are vaccinated by the start of December, while making the approval of vaccines for under-12s a priority.
Edward Argar, a health minister, said the health system would still be able to cope with the rise in cases with an accelerated vaccination booster campaign. He said on Thursday the government was still winning the race against the Covid-19 spread but its advantage had narrowed.
“The NHS, while under huge pressure at the moment, it is a sustainable pressure,” he said. “The key factor you may come to a little bit later is what’s the difference between now and last time, when we saw these high levels of infection rates, and it is of course the vaccine programme.
“We have a challenging winter coming ... the NHS is coping with a difficult situation but there are a lot of factors we need to look at.”
The report called on ministers to “urgently explore” the options for introducing a Covid passport and reinstate rules for obligatory mask-wearing in crowded indoor public spaces.
Mr Blair said that without immediate action, there was a danger that further restrictions would be required.
“Everyone hopes that the damage of Covid-19 is substantially behind us, even as we battle its legacy,” he said.
“However, the worst that could happen is that we go back into anything approaching the lockdowns we experienced during the past 18 months. We’re not saying this will happen. But the risk is there now.
“Once well ahead of the rest of Europe, we’re now behind Germany, France and Italy in terms of cases and even vaccinations.
“So, from an abundance of caution, a sensible sentiment given the history of Covid-19, we believe the government should rapidly and decisively accelerate measures to give us the best possible chance of avoiding the disease spiralling again.“