Boris Johnson rips up Covid rules: what is his plan for the winter?

Vaccines are central to government efforts to avoid further Covid-19 lockdowns

Boris Johnson
(Image credit: Melville-WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Boris Johnson is due to announce his Covid-19 winter plan tomorrow, detailing how the government will tackle the virus over the coming months without resorting to lockdowns or tighter restrictions.

The prime minister is said to be “dead set” against another lockdown, a senior government source told The Telegraph, and is expected to argue that the UK must “learn to live” with the virus now that all adults have been offered the jab.

At a news conference tomorrow, it is thought that Johnson will say vaccinations will now be Britain’s main line of defence against the spread of the illness.

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“This is the new normal. We need to learn to live with Covid,” the senior source said Johnson will tell the nation.

“The vaccines are a wall of defence. The autumn and the winter do offer some uncertainty, but the prime minister is dead set against another lockdown.”

Reliance on jabs

Vaccines will be “our first line of defence” over the winter months said the government in a press release trailing Johnson’s “autumn and winter plan for managing Covid”.

As of 12 September, almost 81% of people aged 16 and over were fully vaccinated, while almost 90% have had the first of two vaccine doses.

As part of his winter plan announcement, the prime minister is expected to approve a roll-out of booster jabs, although it is not yet clear who will be eligible for a third dose of a Covid vaccine.

It is now thought that vaccine effectiveness can taper over time leaving some with insufficient protection against the virus from two doses.

New research has shown that “about 40% of people with weakened immune systems had a low antibody response” – and therefore potentially less protection – after two vaccine doses, reported the BBC. Up to half a million people in the UK could be eligible for a third dose, the broadcaster said.

The UK's chief medical officers today recommended that healthy children aged 12 to 15 should also be offered one dose of a Covid vaccine to help reduce disruption in education.

It comes just weeks after the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said the “margin of benefit” of jabbing 12- to 15-year-olds was “considered too small” for the committee to recommend doing so. Instead, the JCVI advised that children with underlying health conditions and vulnerable relatives should be offered the jab.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid had asked England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty, and his counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to “consider the vaccination of 12- to 15-year-olds from a broader perspective”.

It will now be up to ministers to make the final decision. According to The Telegraph’s Ben-Riley Smith there is a “widespread expectation within Whitehall of a green light” on the matter. If approved, children could start getting Covid-19 vaccines “as early as next week”.

NHS and school leaders are thought to have been put on stand-by to introduce the mass inoculation programme in schools, reported The Guardian.

Domestic vaccine passports scrapped

“But while vaccines may be a major part of the defence, vaccine passports, will not,” noted Sky News, after Javid announced plans to introduce domestic vaccine passports in England “had been scrapped”.

But it is a move that could set England apart from Scotland and Wales noted the broadcaster, as a motion to introduce them in Scotland was passed on Thursday and a decision is due in Wales next week.

Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show, the health secretary said the government was dropping plans to make vaccine passports compulsory when visiting nightclubs and other crowded venues.

“We just shouldn’t be doing things for the sake of it. It’s fair to say most people don’t instinctively like the idea,” he told the programme.

“We were right to properly look at it, to look at the evidence,” he added. “Whilst we should keep it in reserve as a potential option, I’m pleased to say that we will not be going ahead with plans for vaccine passports.”

Parts of the Coronavirus Act repealed

Further stringent lockdowns look unlikely after reports that Johnson is expected to repeal parts of the Coronavirus Act introduced in March 2020 that are no longer “necessary”, according to government officials.

This includes powers to detain potentially infectious people and closing down sectors of the economy, or applying restrictions to events and gatherings.

But “vital elements will be retained”, said The Independent, including providing sick pay for those isolating from day one rather than day seven, directing schools to remain open, and for people to isolate if they receive a positive PCR test.

Facemasks and working from home could be back

Mandatory face coverings and working from home could make a return if there is a surge in Covid-19 infections over winter, according to The Times.

The paper reported that ministers are “increasingly concerned” about the severe strain the NHS could face in the event of a bad flu season combined with rising coronavirus cases.

The restrictions could be put in place as part of a list of options drawn up by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) to limit the spread of the virus without forcing the country to enter another full lockdown.

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