Early evening summary
- Government scientific advisers have urged ministers to bring in a “basket of measures” soon or risk daily hospitalisations soaring to between 2,000 and 7,000 next month as the new school term and returning office workers threaten to drive up cases of Covid.
- Sajid Javid, the health secretary, has said the government may need to reintroduce mandatory face masks and advise the public to work from home, as he set out the government’s plans for coping with Covid in England through the autumn and winter.
- Covid boosters will be offered to all over-50s and those at greatest risk of the disease as part of the “toolbox” of measures for controlling coronavirus over the autumn and winter following guidance from the government’s vaccine advisers.
- MPs have voted to give the health and social care levy bill a second reading. Six Conservative MPs voted against the bill - John Baron, Sir Christopher Chope, Philip Davies, Dehenna Davison, Ben Everitt and Esther McVey - but another 41 Tories did not vote in the division. Some of those will have been authorised absences, but some were abstentions. MPs are now debating amendments to the bill, which is due to clear the Commons tonight.
- Brexit controls on food and animal products that were due to come into effect in January are being postponed until July 2022 because of the potential impact on businesses, the British government has announced.
That’s all from me for tonight. But our Covid coverage continues on our global live blog. It’s here.
And on the subject of hospital admissions, the latest figures on today’s UK Covid dashboard shows them up 5% week on week.
Significant decrease in home working likely to lead to 'rapid increase in hospital admissions', say Sage advisers
Here are links to two of the key Sage documents released today.
Minutes of the Sage meeting from last Thursday (pdf) - where Sage warns of the UK entering “a period of uncertainty”.
Minutes of a SPI-M meeting from last Wednesday (pdf) - where SPI-M suggested a “relatively light set of measures” should be introduced now, and said a significant reduction in homeworking could lead to a “rapid increase in hospital admissions”. (SPI-M is a subcommittee of Sage.) It said:
There is a clear consensus that continued high levels of home working has played a very important role in preventing sustained epidemic growth in recent months. It is highly likely that a significant decrease in home working in the next few months would result in a rapid increase in hospital admissions.
If enacted early enough, a relatively light set of measures could be sufficient to curb sustained growth. During a period of sustained epidemic growth, however, the more stringent the measures introduced, the shorter the duration needed for the measures to be in place to reduce to a given prevalence ...
As well as encouraging home working, more light-touch measures could include clear messaging that recommends people acting cautiously, more widespread testing, a return to requiring all contacts of cases to isolate, and more mask-wearing.
Given a high proportion of susceptible people are in younger age groups, measures targeted towards them are likely to have a disproportionately large effect on prevalence.
The Irish government has said the UK’s decision to delay the introduction of some post-Brexit border checks on EU imports will be good for Irish businesses. Leo Varadkar, the Irish deputy prime minister, said:
They’ve decided to delay those checks, I think at least until the end of the year, and I think that’s going be very welcome for Irish business.
There was a lot of concern, particularly in the food sector, but more broadly, that Britain imposing those checks on imports going to Britain from Ireland would create further trade disruption and could have a negative impact on business and jobs.
As the FT’s Matthew Garrahan points out, others in the EU seem happy about the decision too.
Welsh Labour government and Plaid Cymru say they are discussing cooperation deal
There have been discussions between the Welsh government and Plaid Cymru about an “ambitious co-operation agreement”, PA Media reports. A statement from the Labour Welsh government and Plaid said the two groups were looking at where they can work together. After May’s elections, Welsh Labour holds 30 of the 60 seats in the Senedd and relies on support from other parties to pass legislation.
In a joint statement, the Welsh government and Plaid Cymru said said:
As Wales prepares for a stronger future beyond the coronavirus pandemic; responds to the climate emergency, the ongoing consequences of leaving the EU, and threats to devolution; it is more important than ever that political parties work together wherever they have common interests on behalf of people in Wales.
Constructive initial discussions have taken place between the Welsh Labour government and Plaid Cymru exploring ways of building a more equal, just and democratic nation for all.
These discussions are continuing to explore an ambitious co-operation agreement to be based around a number of defined policy priorities and the governance arrangements on which the Welsh Labour government and Plaid Cymru can work together to deliver for Wales.
The new Chinese ambassador to the UK has been barred from parliament by the Speakers in the Commons and Lords after the imposition of sanctions on British MPs by Beijing, my colleague Patrick Wintour reports.
Nicki Minaj, who has 22.6m Twitter followers, has responded to Sir Chris Whitty (see 4.12pm), who is also a celebrity of sorts now, but who is not quite in her league. His Twitter feed has 355,500 followers.
UPDATE: She has a message for the PM too.
Bring in measures soon or risk 7,000 daily hospitalisations, Sage warns
Government scientific advisers have urged ministers to bring in a “basket of measures” soon or risk daily hospitalisations soaring to between 2,000 and 7,000 next month as the new school term and returning office workers threaten to drive up cases of Covid, my colleagues Ian Sample and Heather Stewart report.
• The headline on this post and the associated link was amended on 15 September 2021 as it incorrectly referred to “daily Covid cases” rather than hospitalisations.
According to the House of Commons authorities, MPs are “strongly advised” to wear masks when they are in the chamber. But most Conservative MPs choose not to. Here is a picture of the Tory benches taken by the official Commons photographer today.
And here is Sajid Javid addressing the opposition benches during his statement. Opposition MPs have been much more willing to wear masks in the chamber, and at the point this picture was taken fewer of them were present.
Vallance stresses it's important to 'go early' if new Covid restrictions needed
Here are the main points from Boris Johnson’s press conference. As has often been the case at these events, the most interesting answers have probably been those from the scientists - although they could probably do with some decoding; one suspects that if Prof Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance were running the country, the autumn and winter Covid plan would be a little more robust.
- Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, stressed that it was important for the government to “go early” in terms of introducing new restrictions if cases continue to rise. He said:
If you look at, across the channel, countries where you’ve got similar levels of immunity and some higher degrees of restriction, what you can see is that the cases are going down.
So we’re at that pivot point where things are flattish at the moment. If they go up quickly, then, as I said, you’ve got to go early in terms of getting on top of it. You can’t wait until it’s late because you have to do more.
At no point did Vallance say that what the government was doing was not enough, but he gave the impression that if the government had adopted tougher measures today, he would not have been upset about it. This is also one of the messages from the Sage minutes released earlier. (See 1.24pm.) Sage, which is co-chaired by Vallance, said:
Sage reiterated the importance of acting early to slow a growing epidemic. Early, “low-cost” interventions may forestall need for more disruptive measures and avoid an unacceptable level of hospitalisations.
Sage noted that European comparators with similar levels of vaccination have maintained more interventions (masks, vaccine certification, work from home) than the UK and are seeing their epidemics decline.
- Whitty, the government’s chief medical adviser, warned about the threat posed by winter. He said that respiratory viruses were “hugely advantaged” by conditions during winter and that last winter the Delta variant was not a problem.
- Johnson said the possible plan B measures set out by the government today would not necessarily be introduced all at once. He said plan B had “a number of different shots in the locker”. He went on:
You wouldn’t necessarily play them all at once, far from it, you would want to do things in a graduated way.
We’re now in a situation when because so many of the population have some degree of immunity, smaller changes in the way we’re asking people to behave can have a bigger impact.
- He said the government would soon announce plans to make “the burdens of testing less onerous for those who are coming back into the country”. Earlier Sajid Javid, the health secretary, implied that PCR tests could soon be replaced with lateral flow tests for people entering the UK. (See 2.47pm.)
- Vallance said there was waning of immunity from the vaccines, but that they continue to provide good protection. He said:
The waning of immunity is clear. It’s greater for infection than it is for the waning against hospitalisations and deaths, so they’re holding up very well. This is some waning. And that waning is most evident in the people who are most at risk.
- Whitty suggested an increase in hospitalisations might be one of the most important factors in determining whether the government went to plan B. He said:
A gradual drift up [in hospitalisations] is one thing, if you suddenly saw a very rapid increase, then you have to consider taking earlier action. No one is claiming there was a good number - we would all like the numbers to be as low as possible - but in terms of what might trigger change, those are the things which I think are the most likely.
- Johnson said vaccine passports were “an important part of our repertoire”. He said they would have been a “lifesaver” last year because they could have allowed nightclubs to stay open.
- Whitty said the risk of going to hospital with Covid was “very substantially smaller” for vaccinated people than it was for vaccinated people. He explained:
If you just do a very crude look at the numbers, someone who is in their 30s and unvaccinated is running about the same risk as someone in their 70s who is vaccinated. It’s that level of difference.
Q: The Night Time Industries Association says the government’s handling of the vaccine passport issue has been catastrophic. What is your response?
Johnson says he wants to keep nightclubs, and the night-time economy, open. This year they can keep it open, he says. But they have to be sensible. Plenty of venues have already been using Covid-status certificates, he says.
Q: What does the data show about the impact of a booster dose of vaccine?
Vallance says booster vaccines give a very big increase in antibody response. That should have a very big knock-on effect in terms of protection, he says.
And that’s it. The press conference is over.
I will post a summary soon.
Q: What is your response to Nicki Minaj tweets claiming vaccines are dangerous?
Whitty says he is worried that publicising remarks like this is counter-productive.
Johnson makes a joke about another Nikki.
There was also a question inviting Johnson to rule out a reshuffle, but Johnson ignores this.
Q: Will it be a new variant that changes the game here?
Whitty says variants are a concern. They happen all the time. The Delta variant is a very bad variant, he says.
We have not had a winter with the Delta one, so it is possible that the combination of Delta plus winter conditions could persuade the government to trigger plan B.
We are not at that point now, he says.
Q: Is it enough to tell people to consider wearing masks in crowded places?
Whitty says his previous suggestion to people remains his view: if you are in a crowded space, particularly indoors, wearing masks will protect people. And there will be places where wearing one will make other people more comfortable.
Q: Were you really planning to bring in vaccine passports in July when you announced the plan? Or was it just a ruse to increase vaccine uptake?
Johnson says he will defend them in principle. But at present he does not think they are necessary, he says.
Q: Deaths are five times what they were a year ago, and hospitalisations four times. Why not take some measure now?
Johnson says the government is continuing to advise people to be sensible and responsible.
Whitty says people are already taking measures to reduce the risk. They are meeting fewer people, and wearing masks in crowded spaces.
Q: How do you respond to the argument in the Lancet paper saying booster vaccines are unnecessary now, and that it would be better to send vaccines to developing countries?
Whitty says everyone wants to get vaccines to low-income countries. That is not contentious.
But is there some waning immunity that suggest a booster vaccine would be a good idea, Whitty asks. There is some evidence for this, he says. He says the UK is taking a middle approach. The JCVI has recommended boosters for some people, but not for everyone.
The case for the booster programme is science-based.
He says mRNA vaccines are being used. They have a short shelf-life, he says, meaning they would not be most appropriate for developing countries.
Vallance says there has been some waning of vaccine effectiveness, and this has been in the people most at risk. He says the JCVI recommendations are very sensible.
Johnson says not all plan B measures would be implemented at once
Q: What would be the trigger for plan B?
Johnson says the priority is to stop the NHS being overwhelmed.
The government will study all sorts of data, he says.
Plan B contains “a number of different shots in the locker”, he says. He says the government would not use them all at once.
Because so many people have some degree of immunity, smaller changes can have a bigger impact.
Sir Patrick Vallance says getting more people vaccinated would make a significant difference.
He says if the government had tried this six months ago, deaths and hospital cases would have gone “through the roof”.
He says hospital case numbers are an important measure. And anything that showed the vaccines having less effect would be important.
He says it is always important to act early.
Whitty says there are three key factors: the number of people going into hospital, the rate of change, and the state of the NHS.
Johnson starts with questions from the public.
Q: Why is the PM not doing more to prevent unnecessary deaths?
Johnson does not accept that. He is taking measures to prevent deaths, he says.
Q: When will travel rules ease for people who are fully vaccinated?
Johnson says he appreciates why people are frustrated. But the rules are important and reasonable, he says.
The government will be saying a lot more shortly about the traffic light system, and how the testing system can be made less onerous. (See 2.47pm.)
Whitty is now showing charts comparing the risks of people who are vaccinated compared with people who are not vaccinated.
He says someone in their 30s who is unvaccinated is running the same risk as someone in their 70s who is vaccinated. This is clear from the hospital rates, he says.
And it is even more clear from the mortality rates, he says.
Whitty ends with a chart comparing where we are now to where we were last year.
This time last year wave two was starting to take off.
We are entering the autumn with cases, hospital numbers and deaths at a higher level than this time last year.
He says autumn and winter is when respiratory viruses are advantaged.
If you have not had your vaccination, now is a very good time to get one, he says.
Whitty says deaths have been broadly flat, or gradually drifting up.
And the number of people getting both doses of vaccine is going up.
Prof Chris Whitty shows the first slide, showing case rates. He says cases have stabilised recently, but people should not over-interpret that.
With hospital cases there has been a gradual drifting up, he says.
Johnson says Covid remains a risk. But he says he is confident they can turn “jabs, jabs, jabs” into “jobs, jobs, jobs”.
Johnson says the vaccine programme is being intensified.
He says 12- to 15-year-olds are being vaccinated.
And the government is “motoring ahead” with the booster programme.
This will build even higher walls of vaccine protection, he says.
Johnson says essentially the strategy is to “keep going”.
We will continue to offer testing, we will continue to urge everyone to be sensible, to be responsible - wash your hands, use ventilation, consider wearing a face covering in crowded places with people that you don’t know, stay at home if you feel unwell, download and use the app.
But he says the government is drawing up contingency plans.
It would not be sensible to rule out Covid passports, he says.
Boris Johnson starts by asking people to remember what it was like last September. In one respect, the situation is worse this September. Cases are higher, he says.
But we are “incomparably better placed to fight the disease” because of the vaccine programme.
He says the vaccine-induced falls in deaths have been extraordinary. And, depending on your age, you are up to nine times more likely to die if unvaccinated than if you have had both jabs.
Boris Johnson holds press conference at Downing Street
Boris Johnson is about to hold a press conference in Downing Street about the autumn and winter Covid plan. He will be with Prof Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical adviser, and Sir Patrick Vallance, its chief scientific adviser.
Here is my colleague Heather Stewart’s story about the plan.
Nicola Sturgeon also told MSPs that face coverings in class for secondary pupils would remain mandatory until the October holidays. She accepted this was unpopular, and said she understood why.
She said that letters sent to pupils who have had a low-risk contact with someone testing positive would be sent out more selectively, to “minimise undue anxiety”.
And she said that, as universities return, there would be no in-person lectures at first, with physical distancing on campus and face coverings required indoors.
Sturgeon said the recent figures showed Scotland’s spike in cases slowing down, and that in the past week more than 70% of all cases have been in the under-45s.
Sturgeon confirms Scotland going ahead with vaccines for 12- to 15-year-olds and booster programme
Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed that Scotland will go ahead with vaccinated 12- to 15-year-olds.
Addressing the Scottish parliament, the first minister said she welcomed and accepted the advice of the chief medical officers.
We believe that vaccination of 12- to 15-year-olds is important and we will therefore move to implement the advice as quickly as possible.
Setting out what she described as “a very significant and very welcome extension of the vaccine programme”, she announced drop-in clinics open from next Monday “for any 12- to 15-year-old who has read the information and - in discussion with parents and carers - decided they wish to be vaccinated”.
The Monday after that, in the week beginning 27 September, letters will be sent to all 12- to 15-year-olds inviting them to an appointment at a drop-in centre or vaccination clinic and finally, after the scheduled community settings, there will be a vaccination programme in schools.
Sturgeon said that the Covid booster programme “will run alongside our biggest ever flu vaccination programme”, and that wherever possible, eligible people will be offered Covid-19 and flu vaccines together.
In the Commons Sajid Javid also said that no decision has yet been taken as to whether pupils in England will have to continue undergoing regular testing. He was responding to a question from his fellow Conservative Mark Harper, chair of the lockdown-sceptic Covid Recovery Group, who said children without symptoms should not be subject to regular testing.
Javid suggests PCR tests for fully jabbed travellers will soon be replace with lateral flow tests
In the Commons earlier Sajid Javid, the health secretary, implied that PCR tests for fully vaccinated travellers will be replaced with lateral flow tests.
The Conservative MP Huw Merriman asked him:
Will he entertain the idea of moving to lateral flow tests, which are cheaper, and then only the small proportion of positive cases will then need to take up a PCR test?
Referring to a statement that Grant Shapps is due to make soon about changes to the Covid travel rules, Javid replied:
I don’t want to pre-empt the statement by the transport secretary but I believe that when he makes that statement, he will be pleased.
Government suggests nightclubs and other venues should make contingency plans for using Covid passports
In his opening statement to MPs, Sajid Javid said: “Whilst we’re not going ahead with mandatory vaccine-only Covid-status certification [aka vaccine passports] now, we will be holding that power in reserve.”
But the autumn and winter plan (pdf) suggests that vaccine passports may be more probable than Javid’s words implied. While stressing that they are just a plan B contingency at this point, it suggests that businesses that might be affected should started making plans for their possible introduction. It says:
Under Plan B, the government expects to introduce mandatory vaccine certification in a limited number of settings, with specific characteristics. The government hopes that it would not be necessary to mandate vaccine certification more widely than these settings, though this cannot be entirely ruled out.
If Plan B is implemented, it could be at short notice in response to concerning data. Therefore, in order to help businesses prepare their own contingency plans, the government will shortly publish more detail about the proposed certification regime that would be introduced as part of plan B. The government would seek to give businesses at least one week’s notice before mandatory vaccine certification came into force.
The document includes a full half page citing evidence to support the case for Covid passports (on page 24).
The plan reveals that if the government does adopt this scheme, the NHS Covid pass, a feature on the NHS app, will effectively become the Covid passport. At the moment the NHS Covid pass allows people to either show either that they have been fully vaccinated, or that they have had a recent negative test. Under plan B the Covid pass would only show proof of vaccination.
And it sets out the venues that might be covered by a Covid passport: not just nightclubs (as originally proposed by Boris Johnson in July), but indoor venues with more than 500 people in close proximity, outdoor venues with more than 4,000 people in close proximity and any setting with more than 10,000 people. (These are almost exactly the same criteria as apply in Scotland, where Covid passports have already been announced, although the Scots are also mandating them for sexual entertainment venues too.)
At the No 10 lobby briefing the prime minister’s spokesman said there was no specific metric for triggering when so-called plan B measures in the winter plan.
Asked whether a new variant, or a certain number of cases per week, would make the government revert to plan B, the spokesman said:
No. As we did with the road map, we never looked to one single metric to decide when to act.
It is important to take a holistic approach and consider a range of data.
Obviously the number of patients in hospital is an important factor, as is the interaction with other indicators, such as the rate of increase in hospitalisations, things like the ratio of cases to hospitalisations, and the trajectory of new cases.
All of those sort of things would need to be factored in alongside vaccine effectiveness, waning immunity, etc.
It is right to look at a range of metrics and not be overly prescriptive and consider the latest advice we are getting from experts, like Prof Whitty and others.
Johnson tells cabinet 'not to be complacent' about continuing threat from Covid
Downing Street has sent journalists its readout from this morning’s cabinet meeting. This is what is says about what Boris Johnson told his ministers about Covid.
The PM said that we must not be complacent as we approach what could be a challenging autumn and winter and that this plan is informed by the latest scientific advice on controlling the virus.
The PM added that since we moved to step four in July, there has been huge progress, and the public have been learning to live with the virus without significant restrictions on businesses and individual freedoms. The PM stressed his desire to see this continue to bolster our vaccine programme as the first line of defence, supported by testing, public health advice, and a variant surveillance system.
The readout also shows that concerns about supply shortages were discussed at cabinet today. Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, gave an update on the problem, and Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, gave details of how driving tests for HGV drivers are being simplified to enable more to be carried out every year.
Brexit is widely seen as contributing to the problem in the UK, but ministers insist that leaving the EU is not to blame and that the shortage of lorry drivers in the UK is part of a Europe-wide problem caused by Covid. The No 10 readout just refers to “HGV driver shortages which have been exacerbated by the pandemic”.
Government says there is 'plausible' risk of Covid cases rising over winter to extent that could overwhelm NHS
The government’s autumn and winter Covid plan (pdf) says there is “significant uncertainty” about what will happen later this year and says there is a “plausible” risk of cases rising to an extent that would place the NHS under “unsustainable pressure”. Here is an extract.
Sage and SPI-M [Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling] modellers now deem the most pessimistic scenarios in the step 4 modelling to be unlikely, except in the case of a new dangerous variant of concern or significant waning immunity. However, there remains considerable uncertainty and scenarios which place the NHS under extreme and unsustainable pressure remain plausible. As a result, the government must continue to monitor the data and prepare contingencies.
Sage says UK entering 'period of uncertainty' and it will take several weeks before impact of school return known
The government has released a series of documents from its Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) relating to today’s announcement, including minutes (pdf) from a Sage meeting last Thursday. Sage said the pandemic was entering “a period of uncertainty” and it stressed the importance “acting early” if cases rise, to stop the epidemic growing. It said:
Sage noted that the epidemic is entering a period of uncertainty. Key uncertainties include the potential impact of any waning of immunity and any significant changes in contact patterns associated with increased attendance at workplaces and reopening of education settings. It will take several weeks to be able to understand the full impact of any such changes.
Hospital admissions will continue to be a critical metric to assess the trajectory of the epidemic, particularly in the elderly. Increasing cases remain the earliest warning sign that hospital admissions are likely to rise. Other early warning signals would be a change in the relationship between cases and hospital admissions, or a change in the pattern of admissions to hospital of those who are fully vaccinated.
Sage reiterated the importance of acting early to slow a growing epidemic. Early, “low-cost” interventions may reduce need for more disruptive measures and avoid an unacceptable level of hospitalisations. Late action is likely to require harder measures.
Sage also says in the minutes that there is “evidence from real-world data in England of waning of vaccine effectiveness against symptomatic disease from approximately 10 weeks after second dose”, although it stresses that protection against hospitalisation and death remains high for at least 20 weeks.
David Davis, the Conservative former cabinet minister, asks Javid for an assurance that if the government is “unwise enough” to try to introduce vaccine passports, MPs will get a vote on this.
Javid says the government wants to work with MPs and that, if it did want to do this, it would come to the house.
This is what Sajid Javid, the health secretary, said in his opening statement about the government’s plan B.
We have seen how quickly this virus can adapt and change so we have prepared a plan B of contingency measures that we can call upon only if they are needed and supported by the data to prevent unsustainable pressure on the NHS.
These measures would be communicating clearly and urgently the need for caution. Legally mandating face coverings in certain settings.
Whilst we’re not going ahead with mandatory vaccine-only Covid-status certification now, we will be holding that power in reserve. As well as these three steps, we’d consider a further measure of asking people to work from home if they can for a limited time if that is supported by the data.
Any responsible government must prepare for all eventualities, and although these measures are not an outcome anyone wants, it’s one we need to be ready for just in case.
The PA Media gallery report says what it describes as “a howl of anguish” was heard from the Tory MP Sir Desmond Swayne as Javid read out this passage. Swayne is one of the Conservatives most opposed to lockdown measures.
This is from the Labour MP Sarah Owen, pointing out the refusal of most Tory MPs in the chamber to wear masks.
The Welsh government has confirmed that children aged 12 to 15 in Wales will be offered a Covid vaccination and booster jabs will begin to be rolled out to the most at-risk people.
Speaking at a press conference in Cardiff, the Welsh health minister Eluned Morgan said:
We will begin preparations to invite 12 to 15-year-olds who have not yet been vaccinated to have a first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. That roll-out will start next week.
We have been preparing for an autumn booster campaign over the summer. Our NHS is ready to deliver this and we will start next week by offering a booster vaccine to help people living and working in care homes and frontline health and social care staff.
We will then offer it to everyone over 50; all frontline health and social care staff and all those with underlying health conditions – just as we did with the first two doses of the vaccine.
Morgan said the government was “particularly worried” about pregnant women who haven’t been vaccinated and urged them to speak to their midwife about having the vaccine.
Morgan said jabs would be offered to 12-15-year-olds at mass vaccination centres and at schools. It would be up to local authorities and health boards to decide the best way in their areas.
She said if there was disagreement between children and parents over whether to have the jab, the Gillick test of competence (which is designed to help professionals decide a child’s capacity) would be applied. “There is a clear process.” She said “child-friendly” information about the pros and cons of the vaccination would be handed out and added: “This is not a compulsory vaccination.”
Morgan also said she was frustrated that the advice over the booster campaign had not come sooner. “We have been ready to roll for a number of weeks.” Morgan said the booster campaign would be rolled out where possible alongside a flu vaccination campaign.
Government publishes autumn and winter Covid plan
The government has now published its 30-page autumn and winter Covid plan. It’s here (pdf).
Javid is responding to Ashworth.
He says it is right to have a contingency plan. If pressure on the NHS became unsustainable, the government would move to plan B.
He stresses the importance of vaccination. He says 99% of people who died from Covid in the first half of this year were not vaccinated.
He says the flu vaccine will have less efficacy than usual this year (because there was less flu around last year, making it harder to develop an effective vaccine). But he says it is still an effective vaccine.
He says he has made it clear that the government is not going ahead with vaccine passports. That would be a big decision, and it would have to be justified by data. That government is not going ahead with that. But it will be kept in reserve as an option, he says.
Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, is responding. He asks a series of questions, including:
What level of infection or hospitalisation would trigger plan B?
What will the government do to get more young people vaccinated?
Will the flu vaccine cope with this year’s strain?
What is the government’s policy on vaccine passports?
Javid unveils 'plan B' for winter if Covid situation gets worse, including vaccine passports and making masks compulsory
Javid says this is plan A.
But there is also a plan B, he says, in cases the situation deteriorates.
He says plan B would involve:
- Communicating to the public urgently “the need for caution”.
- Making face masks compulsory in some settings.
- Requiring vaccine passports in some settings.
- Asking people to work from home.
Javid says some aspects of the Coronavirus Act will also be repealed.
Javid says the fourth pillar will involve steps to keep seasonal illnesses at bay. That involves encouraging people to meet outdoors where possible and to wear masks in crowded spaces.
He says the fifth pillar involves maintaining border controls. And new rules for foreign travel will be announced by Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, before 1 October, he says.
Javid says the third pillar of the strategy involves help for the NHS. The government is putting an extra £5.4bn into the NHS in England for the next six months. And the government is consulting on requiring frontline health workers to be vaccinated. He says it is “highly likely” that the government will make this a requirement.
Javid says the government’s winter plan also includes continued reliance on testing, tracing and self-isolation.
Assistance will remain available for people who need to isolate.
Javid says the vaccine programme is also being extended to cover 12 to 15-year-olds. The government will move “with urgency” to implement this.
Javid says NHS booster vaccine programme will start next week
Javid says the link between cases, hospitalisations and deaths has “weakened significantly” since the start of the pandemic.
He says there are five pillars to the winter plan.
First, the government will strengthen its “pharmaceutical defences” by doing more to get people vaccinated. It will renew efforts to get people vaccinated.
It will launch a vaccine booster vaccine programme. He summarises this morning’s advice from the JCVI, and he says he has accepted it. The NHS will offer booster doses from next week, he says.
Javid starts by offering his condolences to Boris Johnson following the death of his mother.
Sajid Javid's Commons statement on Covid
Sajid Javid, the health secretary, is about to make a statement to MPs about Covid. He is expected to confirm the plan for booster vaccine, and to give other details of the winter plan.
Boris Johnson will be giving his press conference on the same topic at 3.30pm.
Here are the three slides presented at the start of the booster jabs briefing.
Prof Wei Shen Lim, chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said that this first slide only went up to September 2021 because data was not available to measure protection lasting beyond that point.
Q: If someone chooses not to get a booster vaccine, will you say they are not fully vaccinated? And does that mean they would not count as fully vaccinated in any Covid status scheme.
Van-Tam says there has been no discussion about boosters in terms of Covid certification.
As a scientist, he would view someone as not having “optimal protection” if they had not had a booster, he says.
But he says he cannot say what ministers might decide in terms of how this relates to Covid passports.
And that’s it. The briefing is over.
Q: Are you worried about being sucked into a situation where you are always taking the precautionary approach and giving booster vaccines?
Lim says that is an important question. But over time they expect to get better data about how long vaccine effectiveness lasts, he says.
He says it is also possible that the third dose will extend the time protection lasts.
And they do not know how natural infection might top up the immunity offered by vaccines, he says.
Van-Tam says he agrees.
Today’s advice is for this winter only, he says. He says the government will keep asking the JCVI to come back to this until the Covid situation returns to normality.
Van-Tam says the protection offered by initial vaccines is more important than the protection offered by booster vaccines.
He says the vaccine offer is an evergreen one; people can still come forward.
Lim says, as a clinician, he sees people in hospital with Covid who have not been vaccinated. It is heartbreaking, he says.
Q: Are you confident that supply of the flu and Covid vaccines won’t be affected by transport delays?
Van-Tam says there was an issue with the supply of flu vaccine from one manufacturer. But he says he has no concerns about the supply of Covid vaccines.
Van-Tam says NHS should be able to start giving booster vaccines within days
Q: Where will booster vaccines be delivered?
Van-Tam says this needs to start quickly. The NHS has been planning for this for months. He says they do not have ministerial approval yet. But once they do, he says he expects the NHS to be able to start “in a short number of days, not a short number of weeks”.
He says he would expect people to get booster vaccines either at mass vaccination centres or at GP surgeries.
Van-Tam says, if there is good uptake, the booster programme will make “a very substantial impact” in terms of allowing the government to “keep the lid on things” and to reduce pressure on the NHS.
Van-Tam defends decision to ignore doubts of global health experts about booster vaccines, saying other countries doing this too
Q: What do you say to scientists who say this booster campaign undermines global vaccine equity?
Van-Tam says as public health people they take a very strong view that the whole world should have access to vaccines. Until everyone is safe, nobody is safe.
But he says they also have to decide what is best for the UK.
Nine countries have said they are starting some form of booster campaign, and 18 others are considering it, he says.
So the UK is not alone, he says.
Q: The decrease in vaccine effectiveness seems really small. So why are you going ahead with this?
Lim says a drop in effectiveness from 90% to 80% may not seem like much, but it could lead to a doubling in the number of people being admitted to hospital.
If they can protect the NHS, they will save lives, he says.
Van-Tam says by January protection will have waned further. But they don’t know by how much.
The brief from ministers has been to do the most possible to prevent deaths and illness from Covid, he says.
He says if there is going to be a storm, it is better to make your tent secure in advance. It is better to be pre-emptive, and to prepare and plan for the worst eventualities.
UPDATE: Here is the quote in full.
They are now taking questions.
Q: What might happen in the future? Will AstraZeneca be used?
Lim says he cannot say. He would not want to exclude any option at this point.
Q: When will double jabs start, flu and Covid?
Van-Tam says double jabs can start now, provided the product is available.
He says the MHRA has said there is no problem with double jabs.
But it may not always be possible to co-administer both vaccines in patients.
Flu vaccines are administered quickly. But Covid jabs required a 15-minute waiting period. This means administering both at the same time might be difficult, he says.
In the future it is possible that one jab might be able to administer both vaccines, he says.
Van-Tam says today’s recommendation from the JCVI has to be approved by ministers.
But if ministers do agree, it will be “full speed ahead”, but in a “purposeful way”, he says.
Lim says today’s advice does not mean there will be a recurrent programme of booster vaccines every six months.
Further advice will be offered in the future when the country reaches a “steady state” with Covid infections, he says.
He says the advice also does not mean that everyone will need a booster dose. Younger people may not need one, he says.
And he says the booster programme does not mean that other vaccine programmes are not important. In particular, flu vaccines remain important, he says. He strongly urges people to get it.
If people have both vaccines on the same day, that will be safe, he says. Usually they would have the vaccines in different arms.
Lim says there is a preference for using mRNA vaccines - Pfizer or Moderna - for the booster vaccines.
He says an mRNA booster will give a very good response, regardless of what people had first.
He says the Pfizer vaccine is the preferred option because of its simplicity and because it is well tolerated.
But a half dose of Moderna could also be used, he says. That is because a half dose works very well, he says.
Lim says the data suggests there is a small decrease in vaccine effectiveness over time.
He says the most marked decrease in protection occurs in older people and in people with underlying health conditions.
He says the JCVI is advising that adults who are more vulnerable should be offered a booster vaccine.
These will be people who were covered by phase one of the vaccine programme - all adults over 50 and over, plus those with underlying health conditions that put them at risk, as well as health and social care workers.
He says boosters should be given no earlier than six months after the second dose.
And booster vaccines should be given in the same order as original doses, he says.
He says a longer interval to a third booster dose may be beneficial.
But they do not want to wait too long either, he says.
They are looking for a “sweet spot” - which is why they are saying not before six months after the second dose.
Van-Tam says Raine will start by discussing the licensing of booster vaccines, and Lim will then discuss the programme.
Raine says the MHRA wants to ensure that existing vaccines can continue to be used.
She says MHRA has concluded that AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna can be given as booster vaccine.
And it has concluded that giving booster vaccines at the same time as flu vaccines is safe.
A comprehensive surveillance strategy is in place, she says.
Covid boosters can be offered to all UK over-50s, watchdog confirms
Here is my colleague Ian Sample’s story about the announcement, that has just been made, that Covid booster vaccines will be offered to all over-50s and to those at severe risk of the disease.
No 10 briefing on booster jabs
Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer for England, is now chairing a briefing at Downing Street about booster jabs.
Van-Tam is with Prof Wei Shen Lim, chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, Dr June Raine, chief executive of the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.
Van-Tam starts by saying they will just take questions on booster vaccines. They will not discuss other issues.
Tory MPs urge PM to rethink 'deeply troubling' plan to vaccinate 12 to 15-year-olds
In the Commons last night Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccine deployment minister, made a statement to MPs confirming that the government would go ahead with vaccinating 12 to 15-year-olds. Prof Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical adviser, held a press conference earlier to say that the chief medical officers were recommending this, and so Zahawi’s announcement did not come as a surprise.
But the response from Conservative MPs was striking because many of them made it clear that they were deeply unhappy with the proposal. The exchanges only started after 9pm, and so they have had much less coverage in today’s papers than they would have done if that had taken place earlier, but here are some of the highlights.
Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader, said he was worried about teenagers being pressurised into getting vaccinated. He said:
The pressure will grow on the child. There is no way of legislating for this greater good concept that says, “The school may be in trouble, and your class may be in deep difficulty, if you do not take the vaccine.” I simply say ... this is a real problem for us. It will lead to disputes in families and real problems about children’s mental health in the opposite direction, as they are put under pressure. I wonder whether [Zahawi] and the government will think again about this.
Sir Graham Brady, chair of the backbench Conservative 1922 Committee said that only 10 days earlier the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation had warned of “substantial uncertainty” concerning the health risks, and he asked what had changed.
Steve Brine, a former health minister, said:
I am deeply uncomfortable with this decision. I think that when the JCVI made a decision on the application of the vaccine on clinical grounds it was in the right place.
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown said:
I find what [Zahawi] has announced this evening deeply troubling. I think it will pit parents against parents and parents against teachers, with a poor child stuck in the middle wondering what to do. There will be very little benefit to the child, and there is a lack of long-term data on the potential harm. However, what concerns me above all is that the Gillick doctrine of treating children without parental consent will become the norm for a range of medical procedures.
Marcus Fysh said:
There is a great danger in politics that we sometimes make decisions while looking in the rear-view mirror rather than at what is truly the current picture. I have grave concerns about this policy and the fact that the chief medical officers have made their decision on the basis of the educational impact rather than the health of the children at clinical level. I disapprove of this decision incredibly strongly, and I wonder what we can we do to ensure that this kind of thing does not happen again, because I firmly believe that this is a very dark day for our country. Is it going to end with vaccinating five-year-olds when there is no clinical need? This is not about teachers or education. The virus is endemic now; there is not a pandemic any more. We have to get real, and I hope that the government will reconsider.
And Dr Caroline Johnson, a paediatrician, said
I have given many vaccines in my time, including hundreds of covid vaccines more recently, but I am not comfortable with vaccinating teenagers to prevent educational disruption. Under the current rules, no child needs to isolate if they are a contact. They do so only if they are a positive case and, for them, the maximum is eight days of schooling—and that is only if they catch coronavirus during term time. Half of children have already had it and are very unlikely to get it again.
Starmer tells TUC dignity at work 'personal to me' because of his father
Sir Keir Starmer has just finished delivering his speech to the TUC conference. He was speaking at Congress House, the TUC HQ in London, before a small audience, but the conference is essentially online and most of the conference “attendees” would have been watching virtually.
It was a relatively routine speech in which Starmer restated some of Labour’s proposals on workers’ rights but stressed that the party would not be able to implement them until it won power.
He said Labour would:
- Raise the minimum wage to at least £10 per hour, giving a carer on the minimum wage a pay rise of at least £2,500 a year. (The national living wage is currently £8.91 for people aged 23 and over.)
- Ensure more workers are covered by collectively-agreed pay deals.
- Give workers basic rights from day one in the job.
- Ban zero hours contracts and replace them with regular contracts.
- Ensure parental leave and the right to flexible working are available to workers from day one.
Starmer also stressed that the concept of dignity at work, the theme of the conference, was personal to him because of his father. He explained:
When I think about a new deal for workers I think of my dad. He worked on the factory floor all his life. Going to work at 8 in the morning, home for tea at 5, back to work 6 till 10 o’clock at night, 5 days a week. He did that to provide for our family.
So the starting point is a job to raise a family on. That means a real living wage ...
Dignity at work, the theme of this congress, runs through our new deal. This is personal to me.
Despite being a skilled toolmaker throughout his working life, my dad thought people looked down on him because he worked on the factory floor. He was right about that.
Government delays fully implementation of new post-Brexit health and safety checks on EU imports
Lord Frost, the Brexit minister, has announced that a series of post-Brexit health checks on goods that were due to be imposed on EU imports to the UK from later this year, or from January, are being postponed. He says this will give businesses more time to prepare.
Here are the border checks that are affected.
The requirement for pre-notification of sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) goods
Was due to start: 1 October 2021
Now starting: 1 January 2022
The new requirements for export health certificates
Was due to start: 1 October 2021
Now starting: 1 July 2022
Phytosanitary certificates and physical checks on SPS goods at border control posts
Was due to start: 1 January 2022
Now starting: 1 July 2022
Safety and security declarations on imports
Was due to start: 1 January 2022
Now starting: 1 July 2022
In a statement Frost said:
We want businesses to focus on their recovery from the pandemic rather than have to deal with new requirements at the border, which is why we’ve set out a pragmatic new timetable for introducing full border controls.
Businesses will now have more time to prepare for these controls which will be phased in throughout 2022.
The government remains on track to deliver the new systems, infrastructure and resourcing required.
Prof Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), told the Today programme that he would not feel comfortable about a 12-year-old child deciding to get vaccinated against the wishes of their parents. (See 9.50am.)
Asked about this possibility, he told the programme:
I wouldn’t feel comfortable about that.
I think we have to be really careful that we go by the law, and the law clearly states that the child and parent should try to come to an agreed conclusion.
But that if the child wants to go ahead or doesn’t want to go ahead and the parent feels absolutely the opposite, then the clinician involved in administering the vaccine needs to be absolutely sure that the child is competent to make that decision.
There will be a grade of competency from the age of 16 downwards, so 14 to 15-year-olds may be deemed competent to make that decision on their own, it’s less likely that a 12 or 13-year-old will be deemed competent.
Zahawi confirms 12-year-old could be allowed to be vaccinated against wishes of parents
In his interviews this morning Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccine deployment minister, said children aged 12 to 15 would be able to decide to get vaccinated against the wishes of their parents - provided they were deemed competent to do so by a clinician. He told Sky News:
Children will have a leaflet that they can share with their parents and of course we have a consent form that will go to them either electronically and, in some schools physically, to their parents, and their parents will then read all the information, have to give consent if the child is to be vaccinated.
On the very rare occasion where there is a difference of opinion between the parent and the 12-15 year-old, where the parent for example doesn’t want to give consent but the 12-15 year-old wants to have the vaccine, then the first step is the clinician will bring the parent and the child together to see whether they can reach consent.
If that is not possible, then if the child is deemed to be competent - and this has been around since the ‘80s for all vaccination programmes in schools - if the child is deemed to be competent, Gillick competence as it is referred to, then the child can have the vaccine.
But these are very rare occasions and it is very important to remember that the School Age Immunisation Service is incredibly well equipped to deal with this - clinicians are very well versed in delivering vaccinations to 12 to 15-year-olds in schools.
The concept is known as “Gillick competence” in legal circles after Victoria Gillick, the campaigner who went to court in the 1980s to stop doctors giving contraceptives to children under the age of 16 without their parents consent. The case ended up in the House of Lords, where the law lords made a ruling that still applies today.
A controversial plan to build a tunnel between Scotland and Northern Ireland has been ditched before ground was broken, it has been reported, as the Treasury clamps down on spending. My colleague Jamie Grierson has the story.
Johnson to announce ‘last piece of jigsaw’ vaccine booster rollout as part of winter plan
Good morning. As my colleagues Aubrey Allegretti and Peter Walker reports, later today Boris Johnson will confirm the start of a booster jabs programme for the over-50s, as part of an announcement about the government’s winter plan for Covid.
In an interview this morning Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccine deployment minister, said the booster programme would be the “final piece of the jigsaw” as the UK transitions away from dealing with coronavirus as a pandemic. He said:
This is probably the last piece of the jigsaw to allow us to transition this virus from pandemic to endemic and I hope by next year we will be in a position to deal with this virus with an annual inoculation programme as we do flu.
I will post more from his interviews soon.
Here is the agenda for the day.
8.30am: Boris Johnson chairs cabinet.
10am: Sir Keir Starmer gives a speech to the TUC conference.
11.30am: The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation hold a press conference.
12pm: Liz Truss, the international trade secretary, gives a speech.
After 1pm: MPs begin debating the health and social care levy bill, which is due to pass all its Commons stages in one day. The second reading vote will take place three hours after the debate starts, and votes on committee stage amendments will take place another three hours later.
After 2pm: Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, gives a statement in the Scottish parliament on Covid.
4pm: Boris Johnson holds a press conference to give details of the government’s winter plan for Covid.
At some point today there will also be a statement in the Commons on the Covid winter plan, but the timing of that has not been announced yet.
For further Covid coverage, do read our global live blog.
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