The Daily Telegraph

Winter chill blows in as Javid plans offer little comfort and no guarantees

Health Secretary tells MPS harsh social and economic restrictio­ns will be needed if the virus surges again

- By Lucy Fisher DEPUTY POLITICAL EDITOR

SAJID JAVID faced jeers in the Commons yesterday as he announced contingenc­y plans to introduce vaccine passports this winter in the event coronaviru­s surges.

The Health Secretary set out two alternativ­e blueprints for managing Covid-19 as colder weather approaches, in order to avoid the health service being overwhelme­d.

Plan A is the Government’s preferred approach, which broadly relies on vaccinatio­ns to avoid introducin­g restrictio­ns.

However, if the virus takes off, Plan B outlines a series of tougher measures that can be deployed to try and suppress it.

Vaccine passports are included in this arsenal, prompting raised eyebrows among Tory MPS who had welcomed Mr Javid’s about-turn on Sunday when he announced they would no longer be introduced at nightclubs this month, as previously planned.

The 32-page document published by the Cabinet Office also warned that beyond Plan B, harsher economic and social restrictio­ns could be deployed as a “last resort”.

Vaccine passports

Mandatory vaccine certificat­ion could be rolled out from this autumn under Plan B. The Government’s blueprint stated they would be introduced in “a limited number of settings, with specific characteri­stics”, including nightclubs, indoor crowded venues with more than 500 attendees and outdoor crowded venues with more than 4,000 people.

However, the document warned that while the Government “hopes that it would not be necessary to mandate vaccine certificat­ion more widely than these settings”, the proposal “cannot be entirely ruled out”, raising the prospect that unvaccinat­ed adults could effectivel­y be banned from pubs, restaurant­s and other parts of the economy.

In a sign they could be introduced quickly if the need arises, the Government promised that it would seek to give businesses “at least one week’s notice” before bringing them into force.

Under the plan, only double vaccinated people would be certified by the passports. Negative coronaviru­s tests and proof of natural immunity after recently recovering from the virus would no longer be permitted.

The vaccine passport would not be mandatory for communal worship, wedding ceremonies, funerals and other commemorat­ive events, protests and mass participat­ion sporting events.

Workplaces would also be exempt. The move would require new legislatio­n.

Mandatory masks

Ministers could also legally mandate the wearing of masks again under Plan B. In England the law forcing people in England to wear face coverings on public transport and in other indoor settings ended on July 19, although Government guidance still encourages their use in crowded and enclosed spaces. Masks could become a legal requiremen­t again, however, as they are judged to help curb the spread of the virus and have a “low economic cost”.

The precise settings in which they would become mandatory would be “decided at the time”. The move would also require fresh legislatio­n.

Working from home

Reintroduc­ing guidance to work from home is another option under Plan B, although the Government recognised that it would cause more disruption and hit the economy and some businesses harder than the other curbs, so “a final decision would be made based on the data at the time”.

Mr Johnson stressed that there is “social capital” for younger workers to be in the workplace and added that they benefit by learning from colleagues.

However, he said: “If we have to change the guidance that we give on that then we will, but that’s plan B.”

Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, said: “Working from home is just a way in which contacts inevitably go down, so that’s why it was highlighte­d as a particular­ly effective measure to decrease spread at times when you have big increases in levels.”

Lockdown

While the Government said it expected that Plan B would be sufficient to reverse a Covid surge in the autumn or winter, it warned that the nature of the virus “means it is not possible to give guarantees”.

Signalling that a fourth lockdown remained an option, it stated that ministers remain committed to “taking whatever action is necessary to protect the NHS from being overwhelme­d”.

However “more harmful economic and social restrictio­ns” would only be considered as a “last resort”, it said.

Vaccine drive

The Government is launching a new push to persuade the five million eligible people who are yet to be vaccinated to receive the jab.

Mr Johnson said that “fixing that gap in the number of people who have had their vaccine at whatever age” was the most important message of his Downing Street press conference yesterday.

Prof Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, highlighte­d data showing that an unvaccinat­ed person in their 30s is at the same risk of hospitalis­ation from the virus as a fully jabbed person in their 70s.

The Prime Minister said it was a “very, very powerful” statistic, as he also warned that, depending on their age, people are up to nine times more likely to die from Covid if they are unvaccinat­ed compared with being double jabbed.

Prof Whitty acknowledg­ed the right of people with “strange beliefs” to reject the jab, but hit out at anti-vaxxers peddling “clearly ridiculous” myths in a bid to influence others against receiving the injection.

He said people sharing untruths about the jab in a bid to “scare” others should be “ashamed” of themselves.

Booster jabs

Another key pillar of Plan A is for booster jabs to be rolled out to all over 50s, younger adults with health conditions, and frontline health and care workers. The third dose will be offered six months after the second dose, with the Pfizer/biontech and Moderna jab recommende­d. It will be rolled out from next week.

Sir Patrick said that while the vaccines’ effectiven­ess was generally holding up “very well”, there was evidence that it was fading, particular­ly in those who were most vulnerable.

“The waning of immunity is clear,” he said.

The booster campaign comes in addition to the decision on Monday by the four chief medical officers of the UK to recommend that children aged 12 to 15 years old be offered a single dose of the Pfizer/biontech jab.

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Sajid Javid sets out the winter roadmap

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