Speaking at a Downing Street news conference to highlight his plan for the coming months, the PM said vaccines were doing an “extraordinary” job at preventing serious cases. He confirmed a mass booster programme for the over-50s will be rolled out for extra protection, starting next week. But he also warned that “Covid is still out there” so Britons must continue to take care and watch out for others.
Mr Johnson said: “We are continuing to advise everybody to be sensible and responsible. I think that’s the right balance, given where the pandemic is at the moment.”
He set out a “Plan B” of reserve measures, including Covid passports for large indoor events and the return of compulsory face coverings that could be triggered if serious cases surge and put intense pressure on the NHS.
The PM was asked if he was serious about his threat to use vaccine passports.
He said they “would have been a total game-changer, a life-saver” last year, and remain “an important part of our repertoire”. Mr Johnson added: “We reserve the right to come back to you and say we think they are going to be necessary and I think the public can see that.
“But, at present, we don’t think it’s necessary to proceed on that basis. You have got to be mindful that this disease does have a way of changing and moving.”
The Government yesterday published a 30-page Autumn and Winter Plan detailing how the vaccine rollout and forthcoming booster programme will form the main national defence against Covid in the winter, under Plan A. The document also laid out contingency measures under Plan B that may need to be introduced if the disease surges.
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The PM said his Plan B had “a number of different shots in the locker”.
He said: “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, 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.”
Mr Johnson said the UK was facing a “more challenging” Covid situation in terms of case numbers this autumn and winter compared with a year ago.
He added: “We have higher levels of daily cases – thousands more.
“But, in many other crucial respects, the British people – all of us collectively and individually – are incomparably better placed to fight the disease.
“We have more than 80 percent of all over-16s now double-jabbed.
“And we have Covid antibodies in around 90 per cent of the adult population. And those vaccines are working.”
Mr Johnson said the drop in cases of death and serious disease due to the vaccines was “extraordinary”.
He added: “The result of this vaccination campaign is that we have one of the most free societies and one of the most open economies in Europe.
“And that’s why we are now sticking with our strategy. In essence, we’re going to keep going.”
He appealed to the five million people who have not taken up the offer of a Covid vaccine to finally get the jab.
Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said: “One of the most depressing things for doctors is talking to people who have chosen not to get vaccinated because it wasn’t convenient, and see them being wheeled down to intensive care. And you know this was a very serious problem as a result of them not being vaccinated.”
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the nation “must be vigilant” as he unveiled the Government plan to MPs.
He told the Commons: “Deaths from Covid-19 have been mercifully low compared to previous waves.
“But we must be vigilant as autumn and winter are favourable conditions for Covid-19 and other seasonal viruses.”
Mark Harper, chairman of the Covid Recovery Group of Tories, said: “While Plan A looks reasonable, it is disappointing that the Government is already talking about its Plan B which would, once again, cause significant disruption to businesses and costs to the economy.”
Meanwhile, a doctor has warned the NHS is now in a “hugely pressured situation”.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the British Medical Association council chairman, said: “Hospitalisation rates have increased week on week, death rates are increasing week on week.
“We should also not forget the NHS is trying to grapple with a huge backlog of care.
“The NHS is already in a hugely pressured situation.”
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