England Unveils Winter Covid Strategy
A plan to offer all those age 50 and older a booster vaccine was announced on Tuesday as part of a winter coronavirus strategy for England designed to prevent any new surge in cases from overwhelming the National Health Service, while trying to avoid another lockdown.
Sajid Javid, the health secretary, told members of Parliament on Tuesday afternoon that additional vaccine doses would start being offered beginning next week to that group. The decision follows an announcement on Monday that one vaccine shot will be offered to children aged 12 to 15.
As part of its winter plan the government has not ruled out another lockdown completely, presenting it as a last resort that would be considered only if England faces a new and highly transmissible variant. Officials are looking to avoid the type of lockdowns that for months blocked people from seeing family and friends even in most outdoor settings, while also preventing another catastrophic winter surge like the one that pummeled the country last year.
Mr. Javid said that the government was preparing a “plan B” as a contingency in the event that cases rise significantly, as some experts fear they will in the winter months. This includes reintroducing a requirement to wear face coverings in indoor spaces and on public transportation, and advising people to work from home when possible.
On Sunday the government said it would not proceed with a vaccine passport plan that would have forced nightclubs and some other venues in England to check the status of those trying to enter. But it has kept open the option of reviving the strategy should the situation deteriorate.
“The link between cases, hospitalizations and death has weakened significantly since the start of the pandemic and deaths from Covid-19 have been mercifully low compared with previous waves,” Mr. Javid told lawmakers. “Nonetheless, we must be vigilant as autumn and winter are favorable conditions for Covid-19 and other seasonal viruses.”
On Tuesday government scientific advisers said it would be safe for additional vaccine doses to be “co-administered,” alongside flu shots, for older adults. Speaking to the BBC, Mr. Javid all but ruled out another round of severe restrictions, saying that although it’s not off the table, “I just don’t see how we get to another lockdown.”
Over the past year, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has often faced pressure from a vocal group of lawmakers in the libertarian wing of his Conservative Party who campaigned for the scrapping of coronavirus rules.
In July, Mr. Johnson largely gave them what they wanted, easing most legal coronavirus restrictions on what the tabloid media called “freedom day.”
Britain is now averaging about 30,000 new coronavirus cases and about 1,000 hospital admissions each day, according to government data. And while that is significantly fewer than the 100,000 cases predicted by some experts, government officials know that another surge is possible as children return to school and the weather worsens weather through the fall and winter.
On Monday, British health officials approved the mass coronavirus vaccination program for children aged 12 to 15, despite the reservations of some medical experts who questioned whether young people would benefit significantly from the shots.
The move, announced by the chief medical officers of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, followed weeks of uncertainty about whether children in that age group would be allowed to receive the shots.