MPs should set example with masks in battle against Covid, says Javid

Health secretary rejects calls for ‘plan B’ measures despite predicting infections could hit 100,000 a day

Politicians have a responsibility to set an example in the battle against Covid, including wearing masks in crowded spaces, Sajid Javid has suggested as he predicted new infections could hit a record 100,000 a day.

With the government under mounting pressure to impose measures to control the virus, Javid warned “this pandemic is not over” and insisted he would do “what it takes” to protect the health service. But he said: “We don’t believe that the pressures currently faced by the NHS are unsustainable.”

Javid urged millions of eligible people to come forward for booster jabs, saying this was key for people being able to “keep their freedoms”, but declined to say how high infection or hospitalisation rates would need to reach before measures are reimposed.

He was pressed on the risks of mixed messages, with most Conservative MPs declining to wear masks in the House of Commons or in packed cabinet meetings, and the business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, encouraging the public to book Christmas parties.

Javid conceded that this was an issue. “I think that is a very fair point. As I say, we’ve all got our role to play in this,” he told a Downing Street press conference alongside Jenny Harries, head of the new UK Health Security Agency, and Stephen Powis, medical director of NHS England.

Javid said: “We, the people standing on this stage, we play … our public roles as secretary state, as someone from the NHS, as the head of UKHSA. But we also have a role to play in setting an example as private individuals as well, and I think that’s a very fair point, and I’m sure a lot of people will have heard you.”

Previously, ministers have brushed aside concerns about mask-less Tory MPs crammed into the Commons chamber, a compact arena with limited ventilation, saying it is within guidelines as the MPs are colleagues.

Javid struck an overall sombre tone at the conference, repeatedly stressing the virus has not gone away despite the absence of any formal restrictions on daily life in England.

On Wednesday more than 49,000 new Covid cases were reported in the UK, alongside 179 deaths, and Javid repeated a warning made this summer that daily infection rates “could yet go as high as 100,000”.

“We must all remember that this virus will be with us for the long term, and that it remains a threat,” he said. “A threat to our loved ones and a threat to the progress that we’ve made in getting our nation closer to normal life.”

The British Medical Association said on Wednesday it was “categorically” now time to activate plan B, which would see a return to coronavirus measures in England.

Britain’s largest doctors’ union added that it was “incredibly concerning” and “wilfully negligent” of the government to refuse to take further action to tackle the crisis.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, accused ministers of taking their “foot off the brake” by giving millions of Britons the false impression that “the pandemic is behind us”.

“Only last week two select committees found the UK was an international outlier when it came to public health policy during this crisis,” he added. “We are rapidly approaching a position where, yet again, the government is delaying for too long, and equivocating over taking action.

“This is the time to learn the lessons of the past and act fast, or else we will face far more extreme measures later.”

On Tuesday, the NHS Confederation said the government must immediately press ahead with its “plan B” for containing the virus or risk derailing efforts to tackle the backlog of 5 million patients.

Matthew Taylor, its chief executive, said Javid’s warnings of up to 100,000 cases a day emphasised the need for action. “The message from health leaders is clear – it is better to act now, rather than regret it later.”

Javid said he had great respect for the NHS Confederation, which represents healthcare providers, but said he would not be moving to plan B “at this time”.

He underlined the fact that ministers would be “staying vigilant, preparing for all eventualities” however, and said that fresh restrictions might need to be imposed if people do not behave cautiously.

If Javid’s warning of 100,000 cases a day came to pass, that would be higher than at any stage during the pandemic. The highest recorded daily figure for reported cases was 68,053 on 8 January.

The health secretary previously suggested cases could hit 100,000 in the summer, when infections rose sharply as restrictions were lifted – but they went on to peak above 60,000 in July before falling away.

He said the government would be redoubling its efforts to administer booster jabs to the over-50s and the clinically vulnerable. The NHS has already administered 4m top-up doses but Javid urged others to come forward.

“We’ve got the jabs: we just need the arms to put them in,” he said, calling it a “national mission” to roll out the vaccine. He urged people to come forward for their booster vaccine dose, “not just to save lives, but to keep your freedoms too”.

Asked about problems with the current rollout of vaccinations, with charities representing immunocompromised people saying only about 40% have so far received news of their third jab, Javid also accepted there had been issues.

Contributors

Heather Stewart, Peter Walker and Andrew Gregory

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Sajid Javid hits out at unvaccinated for ‘taking up hospital beds’
Minister says the 10% of population unjabbed ‘must think about the damage they are doing to society’

Jem Bartholomew

19, Dec, 2021 @5:11 PM

Article image
Mandatory masks could return this winter, says Sajid Javid
Health secretary says public could again be advised to work from home under plans for coping with Covid in England over coming months

Heather Stewart Political editor

14, Sep, 2021 @12:53 PM

Article image
Sajid Javid ‘leaning towards’ mandatory Covid jab for NHS staff
Health secretary yet to make final decision on whether to bring NHS in line with care home sector in England

Sarah Marsh

25, Oct, 2021 @8:15 AM

Article image
Bias in medical devices may have led to avoidable UK Covid deaths, says Javid
Health secretary announces review to examine why people of colour and women have worse health outcomes

Robyn Vinter

21, Nov, 2021 @12:56 PM

Article image
Javid urged to prioritise Covid tests for NHS workers or risk patient harm
Doctors say some staff can’t work due to shortage of tests as health secretary admits supply is ‘constrained’

Heather Stewart and Richard Adams

30, Dec, 2021 @5:48 PM

Article image
NHS England waiting list reaches record high for second straight month
Experts warn 5.3m backlog could exacerbate burnout with staff facing ‘unprecedented levels of exhaustion’

Rachel Hall and Pamela Duncan

08, Jul, 2021 @3:15 PM

Article image
Christmas curbs could be brought in within days, says Sajid Javid
Health secretary expected to announce whether social mixing will be curtailed over festive period

Heather Stewart and Ian Sample

19, Dec, 2021 @8:17 PM

Article image
Sajid Javid says delivering Covid booster jabs is NHS’s new national mission
Health secretary says demands for GPs to return to face-to-face appointments could be axed to bolster vaccination effort

Rowena Mason Deputy political editor

01, Dec, 2021 @4:18 PM

Article image
NHS staff face rising tide of abuse from patients provoked by long waits
Chronic underfunding, Covid and staff shortages blamed for increase in physical and verbal assaults

Denis Campbell Health policy editor

10, Oct, 2021 @6:00 PM

Article image
Unvaccinated NHS doctor challenges Sajid Javid over compulsory Covid jabs
Health secretary exchanges views with medic who says he has had the virus and does not want the jab

Damien Gayle

08, Jan, 2022 @2:34 PM