London: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will set out the government’s winter plan for managing Covid-19 this week, Downing Street said on Monday.
Vaccines will continue to be the first line of defence over the coming autumn and winter months, supported by new treatments, testing, and the UK’s ‘world leading variant surveillance system, with further lockdowns expected to be ruled out.
Under the autumn-winter proposals, the government is set to repeal some powers of its emergency Coronavirus Act, brought in to tackle the pandemic last year.
‘Thanks to the efforts of the public, the NHS and our phenomenal vaccination programme, we reached Step 4 in our (lockdown) Roadmap and life has returned to a sense of normality, said Johnson, ahead of a planned press conference on Tuesday.
‘These extraordinary times required necessary but intrusive measures. But I’m determined to get rid of any powers we no longer need because of our vaccine defences. I will set out the next phase in our Covid response shortly, he said.
Downing Street has said that while certain powers, such as closing down sectors of the economy, schools and detention of infectious people are set to go, some vital powers from the Coronavirus Act will be retained to protect and support the public. This includes giving sick pay to those isolating from day one rather than day seven, directing schools to remain open if they close against government guidance, and helping the National Health Service (NHS) to get the emergency resource it needs.
Legal requirements will remain for someone to isolate if they test positive, to protect the most vulnerable from infection and to control the spread of variants.
Downing Street said that as of September 9, nearly 90 per cent of the UK population aged over 16 have received a first dose of the Covid vaccine, and over 80 per cent have received both doses. The latest data from Public Health England (PHE) shows Covid vaccines are highly effective against hospitalisation from the Delta (B.1.617.2) variant, first detected in India and currently the dominant strain in the UK. Analysis shows the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is 96 per cent effective and the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine – being administered in India as Covishield – is 92 per cent effective against hospitalisation after two doses.
‘The winter months will bring renewed challenges. Covid will circulate alongside flu and other respiratory viruses and the threat of a new variant remains. It is difficult to predict with certainty how these will interact and what pressure they may place on the NHS, Downing Street said.
‘The independent expert committee – the Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisation (JCVI) – were asked to consider a Covid vaccine booster programme. Their interim advice suggested planning for booster vaccines to be rolled out to the most vulnerable from September 2021, to offer an increased level of protection over winter, it said.
The UK government says it expects to receive confirmation this week from the JCVI on the details of a vaccination booster programme, with plans in place to begin later this month. This is intended to boost immunity against Covid-19 over the winter months, protecting against serious disease and death and unsustainable pressure on the NHS.
The government confirmed last week that those who are particularly vulnerable and immunocompromised will be offered a third primary dose. This is separate to the booster programme, as this category requires a third primary dose due to insufficient protection from two doses.