Britain to blitz unvaccinated to get through ‘bumpy’ winter

UK government to step up pressure on millions of adults who have not yet accepted a Covid shot

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Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson will target the six million unvaccinated Britons over the age of 16 as part of his five-point plan to avoid more lockdowns during what is set to be a “bumpy” winter.

The government’s blueprint to keep the economy open and prevent the NHS from becoming overwhelmed by Covid during the height of the flu season will include a plan to “maximise uptake” of vaccines among eligible adults.

Mr Johnson’s package of measures includes booster jabs for the over-70s and vulnerable from next week and a comprehensive flu vaccine campaign.

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, the prime minister said "in one way, our position today is actually more challenging than last year – we have higher numbers of daily cases".

But he said the success of the vaccine campaign has left the country better placed to fight the disease.

"The result of this vaccination campaign is that we have one of the most free societies and one of the most open economies in Europe," he said.

"And that's why I'm sticking with our strategy. In essence, we're going to keep going, we will continue to ... urge everyone to be sensible and responsible."

However, he said Britain would keep its "Plan B" in reserve in the event that cases and hospital admissions rise quickly and sharply.

"We do not see the need now to proceed, for instance, with mandatory certification", he said.

“It’s just not sensible to rule out completely this kind of option now, when we must face the fact that it might still make the difference between keeping business open at full capacity or not.”

Outlining the measures in a speech in the House of Commons on Tuesday, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said vigilance was needed before winter as citizens “approach this critical chapter” in the fight against Covid.

“Almost six million people over the age of 16 remain unvaccinated in the UK and the more people that are unvaccinated, the larger the holes in our collective defences," he said.

“So we will renew our efforts to maximise uptake among those that are eligible that have not yet, for whatever reason, taken up the offer.”

The government said 185 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Tuesday, bringing Britain’s coronavirus death toll to 134,446. Office for National Statistics figures showed 159,000 deaths registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate. Another 26,628 Covid-19 cases were reported in the UK on Tuesday, the government said.

Mr Javid said the Prime Minister’s five-pillar plan aims to “give this nation the best possible chance of living with Covid without the need for stringent social and economic restrictions”.

The document includes a plan to offer vaccines to 12 to 15 year olds after it was recommended by the chief medical officers of all four devolved nations.

Mr Javid said ministers would “move with urgency” to deliver shots to young people.

The plan includes a third vaccine for the elderly and clinically vulnerable and Mr Javid confirmed that "the NHS is preparing to offer booster doses from next week”.

He spoke of possible mandatory vaccines for frontline NHS workers. “I believe it is highly likely that frontline NHS staff and those working in wider social care settings will also have to be vaccinated to protect those that are around them,” he said.

The new measures include plans to kick off the “largest ever flu vaccination campaign this country has ever seen” which will see people bombarded with messages about the benefits of the shot.

Speaking at Downing Street, England's chief medical officer Chris Witty urged anyone who is not vaccinated to come forward.

He revealed the risk from Covid to unvaccinated people in their 30s was the same as a vaccinated people in their 70s.

“One of the most depressing things for doctors is talking to people who have just chosen not to get vaccinated because it wasn’t convenient at that particular moment and you see them being wheeled down to intensive care, and you know this was a very serious problem as a result of them not being vaccinated", he said.

Mr Javid revealed plans to reopen international travel and said Transport Secretary Grant Shapps would publish a new framework before a formal travel review on October 1.

The health secretary said the measures were the government’s “Plan A” to fight Covid this winter, as he warned about the “Plan B” restrictions to prevent “unsustainable pressure on the NHS”.

He said the government retains the power to deliver mandatory vaccine passports and order a return to the mandatory face-mask rule in indoor settings and working-from-home rules.

We must not be complacent as we approach what could be a challenging autumn and winter
Boris Johnson

As part of the plan, PCR tests will continue to be offered free to anyone experiencing Covid symptoms or who has come into contact with a confirmed case, while contact tracing will continue through the NHS Test and Trace system.

Over the coming months, financial support will continue to be available to people forced to miss work if they are required to self-isolate, and this will be reviewed by the end of March 2022.

After Mr Javid’s announcement, No 10 said the Prime Minister told Cabinet colleagues the autumn and winter months could prove “challenging” amid the threat of rising infections.

“We must not be complacent as we approach what could be a challenging autumn and winter," Mr Johnson said. “This plan is informed by the latest scientific advice on controlling the virus.

“Since we moved to Step 4 in July, there has been huge progress and the public has been learning to live with the virus without significant restrictions on businesses and individual freedoms.”

The prime minister’s official spokesman said Mr Johnson “stressed his desire to see us continue to bolster our vaccine programme as the first line of defence, supported by testing, public health advice and a variant surveillance system”.

“Cabinet agreed the plan which was set out in Parliament earlier today,” the spokesman said.

Updated: November 22, 2021, 8:39 AM