Be prepared for winter Covid wave, Boris Johnson to warn

Jabs for teenagers, booster scheme, flu shots and vaccine passports expected to be part of PM’s winter plan for England

England must head into an “uncertain” winter fully prepared for a new wave of the pandemic, Boris Johnson will warn next week as he unveils a blueprint for to avoid shutting schools and pubs again.

The prime minister’s Covid winter plan for England will set out “contingency” measures – which could involve the reintroduction of some nationwide restrictions such as social distancing or masks – that would come into force if case numbers and hospitalisations begin to overwhelm the NHS again.

On Tuesday Johnson is expected to announce his plan for avoiding a full lockdown, including the introduction of Covid boosters and the biggest ever flu jab campaign, to be administered at the same time.

Government sources said they believed the boosters would be recommended only for elderly and vulnerable people in the first stage but stressed the NHS would be ready if advisers approved a wider introduction of third jabs for other age groups.

Johnson will also announce the rollout of Covid passports to access large, crowded venues such as nightclubs, and the UK’s chief medical officers are next week expected to give the green light to vaccinate children aged 12 to 15.

A senior government source said of the winter plan: “We’re going to approach it as we have done through the pandemic: be prepared. If cases become a problem and hospitalisations become a problem then we will act.”

On Friday, 37,622 new Covid cases were reported, while 1,063 people were admitted to hospital with the virus across the UK and there were 147 coronavirus deaths.

The source added that the prime minister “desperately wants to avoid having to close anything” and the Covid winter plan was designed to avoid the need for another full lockdown.

“There’s a great deal of uncertainty about what’s going to happen. We need to be prepared, we need to have options ready to go. But we’ve got confidence in our vaccine programme, we’ll have more details on boosters and hopefully kids next week, and we’ll make sure we go into the winter fully prepared,” they said.

No 10 is hoping the blueprint will appease Tory anti-lockdown rebels, who are already in revolt over the government’s plans to extend emergency Covid powers for another six months, with a vote expected later in September.

One senior Whitehall source said Johnson’s intervention “will do what we in government will call pitch rolling, trying to tell the public things are kind of OK but there may come a time between now and winter where we reintroduce certain measures”.

“The PM doesn’t want any measures but we can’t rule it out – if we don’t want another lockdown, we may have to use other options … [which] could be reintroducing social distancing, reintroducing face masks in some circumstances.”

Setting out the government’s thinking on the pandemic, the prime minister is likely to strike a more cautious note than he has done in recent months, warning the public to continue being careful as cases are rising. The hope within Downing Street is that people will take it upon themselves to take extra precautions without the need for formal restrictions.

Johnson’s official spokesman said the country should be ready for the NHS to face a “difficult time” this winter.

The prime minister’s Covid plan for England is expected to coincide with announcements from the Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisation (JCVI) on booster jabs and from the UK’s chief medical officers on the vaccination of schoolchildren aged 12-15.

The JCVI is understood to have agreed in principle to an autumn programme of boosters after lengthy discussions on Thursday, at which the panel was shown interim findings of the Cov-Boost study, which examined the efficacy of various vaccines given as a third dose to people who had previously had two AstraZeneca or Pfizer jabs.

The JCVI has already approved third injections for about 500,000 clinically very vulnerable adults and older children and it is possible it could simply extend this to people with other health conditions, or who are older.

The JCVI is also believed to have approved the idea of, where possible, booster jabs being given alongside the regular programme of annual flu vaccinations, which are also targeted at older people or those with health conditions.

Another study, known as ComFluCov, has been examining whether it is safe and effective to give both jabs together.

• This article was amended on 11 September 2021 to remove references to the “UK” and “Britain” from the headline and introduction. As the rest of the text itself makes clear, the prime minister’s plan is for England.


Heather Stewart, Rowena Mason, Peter Walker and Aubrey Allegretti

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Boris Johnson suggests England will not return to regional Covid tiers
New variant is a ‘national phenomenon’ that may call for a nationwide approach, says PM

Jessica Elgot Deputy political editor

01, Feb, 2021 @7:51 PM

Article image
Don't get hopes up about rapid Covid vaccine rollout, Boris Johnson tells UK
Prime minister stresses continued importance of coronavirus restrictions at PMQs

Peter Walker Political correspondent

02, Dec, 2020 @1:13 PM

Article image
Boris Johnson says 'very low' Covid case rate key to easing lockdown
Emphasis on infection rate in addition to four initial criteria likely to inflame backbench tensions

Jessica Elgot Deputy political editor

15, Feb, 2021 @8:27 PM

Article image
Reopened festivals and stadiums in England could be used for mass Covid testing
Public events could be way of monitoring infection levels after the population is vaccinated

Jessica Elgot, Damien Gayle and Lucy Campbell

16, Feb, 2021 @6:46 PM

Article image
Ministers flatly reject Tory demands to end Covid controls by May
Backbenchers’ calls dismissed but clamour for a more fixed schedule seems set to increase

Peter Walker, Ian Sample and Richard Adams

14, Feb, 2021 @7:15 PM

Article image
Boris Johnson says government did everything it could to limit Covid deaths
PM says it is ‘hard to compute the sorrow’ after number of deaths passes 100,000

Niamh McIntyre, Peter Walker, Pamela Duncan and Robert Booth

26, Jan, 2021 @6:09 PM

Article image
Covid: Boris Johnson unveils lockdown exit plan: schools and social contact first
PM to unveil proposals for England on Monday, with shops and restaurants facing longer wait

Jessica Elgot and Archie Bland

22, Feb, 2021 @3:03 PM

Article image
Study reveals low Covid jab take-up among black people in England
Over-70s of black African heritage 7.4 times more likely not to have had first dose than white people, says ONS

Haroon Siddique and Aamna Mohdin

29, Mar, 2021 @12:12 PM

Article image
Boris Johnson under pressure to prioritise vaccine for care homes
Scotland announces rollout within fortnight, casting doubt on logistical obstacles cited by PM and NHS chief

Robert Booth Social affairs correspondent

03, Dec, 2020 @7:00 PM

Article image
NHS Covid app could be used to prove status and access venues in England
Measures being considered would see pubs and restaurants checking if customers have been vaccinated or recently tested

Aubrey Allegretti and Jessica Elgot

24, Feb, 2021 @6:00 AM