Sajid Javid Says the U.K. Is “Nowhere Near” a Return to Full Lockdown Measures

Sajid Javid has said that the Government is “nowhere near” bringing back full lockdown restrictions in the U.K., saying that the measures “carry a very heavy price”, such as economic damage and negative mental health outcomes. The Health Secretary also said that “people should continue with their plans as normal for Christmas” despite the emergence of the Omicron variant. The Sun has the story.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid has said “we’re nowhere near” reintroducing working from home or social distancing measures to combat Covid.

He told Sky’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday: “We know now those types of measures do carry a very heavy price, both economically, socially, in terms of non-Covid health outcomes such as impact on mental health.

“So, if one was to make decisions like that they would have to be done very, very carefully and we’re not there yet, we’re nowhere near that.”

He added that people should plan for Christmas as “normal”.

“I think it’s fair to say that the nature of this pandemic is it would be irresponsible to make guarantees,” Javid said.

“As for Christmas, I think people should continue with their plans as normal for Christmas, I think it’s going to be a great Christmas.”

It comes as compulsory mask-wearing is set to return next week in a bid to save Christmas from a super-mutant coronavirus.

Boris Johnson ordered the move after at least two cases of the fast-spreading Omicron variant were found in the U.K.

He also urged people to get booster jabs, saying: “It’s more vital than ever.”

Mask-wearing will again be compulsory in shops and buses, trains and taxis in England from Tuesday.

Overseas travel and self-isolation rules have been tightened after the first two cases of the super-strain were detected in Britain.

Scientists will explore how the booster programme can be extended, including to those as young as 18 years-old.

Omicron, discovered only days ago in southern Africa, has been declared the worst variant yet by one expert, while there are fears it might reduce vaccine protection over time.

The Prime Minister’s measures, outlined at a Downing Street briefing, aim to slow down its spread until scientists know just how dangerous it is.

But Johnson stopped short of imposing a devastating shutdown of pubs and restaurants in the run-up to Christmas.

He insisted that if the public stick to the rules and get their jabs, there will be no need for another last-gasp festive lockdown…

Despite the reassurances, the mere prospect of fresh Covid curbs will send shockwaves through the hospitality industry which saw takings fall by almost 80% in the festive period last year.

Johnson refused to give any guarantees but he is clear that there will be no lockdown like last year, and people were not being asked to work from home.

In a further move, he announced plans to step up the pace of the jabs programme.

Worth reading in full.

Sajid Javid Rules Out ‘Plan B’ – For Now

Sajid Javid has said that the Government does not need to trigger ‘Plan B’, which would see the return of mask mandates and the introduction of vaccine passports for certain venues, but instead urged members of the public to take up the offer of a booster jab so the country can “look forward to Christmas together”. However, the Health Secretary insisted that the Government will “take further measures” and implement ‘Plan B’ if it needed to. MailOnline has the story.

The Health Secretary said that the country is “not at that point” of needing restrictions to be re-imposed. 

But he said “if we needed to take further measures with ‘Plan B’ then we would do so” as he stressed the Government is “not complacent in any way”.

Bookings for Covid booster jabs are opening this week for people aged 40 years-old and over. 

Ministers have faced fresh questions over whether they will push the button on ‘Plan B’ after a Covid surge across Europe prompted some countries to return to lockdown measures. 

The Netherlands has confirmed a three-week partial lockdown while Austria is set to impose a lockdown on unvaccinated people.

A further 40,941 Covid cases were confirmed in the UK as of yesterday morning while a further 150 people had died within 28 days of testing positive. 

The Government’s ‘Plan A’ for tackling Covid is to rely on the vaccination programme and testing to limit the spread of the disease. 

‘Plan B’ would see vaccine passports required for attending certain events and the return of face masks being compulsory in certain settings.            

Javid was asked during an interview on Sky News this morning if people should brace themselves for a return of restrictions before Christmas. 

The Health Secretary said: “As we all look forward to Christmas, it is very sad to see cases rising, surging, in certain parts of Europe.

“We have always known that this virus, it loves the winter, it likes the cold, darker days that winter brings and we need to make sure we are doing everything we can to protect ourselves against that.

“What has made a real difference here in the UK is our booster programme, our hugely successful booster programme.

“Almost 15 million booster jabs given already, covering some quarter of the population over the age of 12 years-old, almost 400,000 a day across the U.K.

“That is making the difference and we know that because just this week there was more data published after more studies that shows that the protection you get from your booster… it almost doubles from 50% to over 90%

“I will be extending the booster programme starting tomorrow to 40 to 49 year-olds.

“But we have all got a role to play in this, in our national vaccination programme and if you are eligible, whether it is your first shot, second shot or your third shot, please come forward and let’s look forward to Christmas together.”

Worth reading in full.

Businesses Cancel ‘Super-Spreader’ Christmas Office Parties

Catering services have reported that the demand for office Christmas parties has declined, as businesses want to avoid the risk of spreading Covid to staff. On the other hand, companies which have decided to host a traditional Christmas celebration have implemented safety measures to reduce the risk of contracting Covid, such as requiring attendees to show a negative PCR test. The Times has the story.

The Times approached every company in the FTSE 100 to ask whether they were organising an office Christmas party this year. Of those that responded there was an even split between cancelling and proceeding, although most of those that were going ahead said they would be hosting multiple smaller events rather than one big party.

Evraz, the mining group, said that it was cancelling festivities in order to “keep our people safe”. Anglo American, another mining group, and IAG, which owns British Airways, chose to cancel.

Experian, the credit reference agency, said that it was not having one big staff party but that employees would be offered “smaller group get-togethers” if they felt comfortable doing so.

Aviva, the insurance company, said that it was going ahead. A spokesman said: “we want everyone at Aviva to have the chance to celebrate the festive period with their colleagues. This will be a mix of events at our offices and at other locations. We are encouraging all colleagues to do everything they can to reduce the risk of the virus spreading, including taking a lateral flow test before and after the event and following external venues’ Covid measures.”

Hospitality businesses that rely on the Christmas season fear they will struggle this year. Philip Inzani, who owns the Polo Bar near Liverpool Street in the City of London, said that Christmas party bookings were down 30% on a normal year and that the bookings he had taken were for smaller groups on average.

“We’re finding that there are inquiries but for a lot less people. So where we would have had an inquiry for 30 people previously, we’re now finding that it’s 10 people or something like that”, he said. “One issue is that a lot of staff are flexi-working so fewer are in central London offices, and of course some people are still nervous about gatherings because of Covid”.

Inzani, 50, also offers catering for office-based Christmas parties but demand for that has slumped even further. He said: “We’d probably end up doing about 15 to 20 events throughout the pre-Christmas period normally. But so far this year we’ve just got two inquiries.”

Worth reading in full.

Unvaccinated Set to Be Banned from Berlin Christmas Market

German officials have given the green light to prohibit the unvaccinated public from attending the Berlin Christmas Market. Those looking to gain access will have to provide proof that they are double-jabbed or have recovered from Covid, with the only exception being children under the age of 12, who have not been offered the vaccination. Although venues can set their own rules, thereby permitting the unvaccinated to enter (albeit with a negative Covid test), a number of Berlin Christmas Markets have already pledged to bar the unvaccinated from the premises. The MailOnline has the story.

Under a strict ‘2G’ model, those over the age of 12 must be double vaccinated or recovered from the virus and would be denied entry even if they have a negative Covid test, reports German newspaper Tagesspiegel.  

But organisers of the markets, which return on November 22nd would be able to opt for a less strict ‘3G’ model which would allow unvaccinated people to attend – but only if they show proof of a negative test.

Yet with the more lenient rules, visitors to the Christmas markets in Berlin must wear face masks and social distancing will be enforced. 

A number of the German capital’s famous Christmas markets – including the WeihnachtsZauber market at Gendarmenmarkt – have confirmed that only vaccinated people over the age of 12, or those who have recovered from Covid, will be allowed entry, reports the Local

The only exception to the rules is for children under the age of 12, who are currently unable to get vaccinated. But the youngsters will still have to show a negatives [sic] test, although children under the age of six will not have to provide proof.   

The move is the latest example of countries in Europe banning unvaccinated people from public events. 

Last week, Austria’s Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg announced that the country is considering a Covid lockdown which would only restrict those who are not fully jabbed. 

Schallenberg announced that if the number of Covid patients in intensive-care units reaches 500, or 25% of the country’s total ICU capacity, entrance into businesses such as restaurants and hotels will be limited to those who are vaccinated or recovered from the virus.    

If the number reaches 600, or one-third of total ICU capacity, the Government plans to impose restrictions on unvaccinated people. In this case, they would only be allowed to leave their homes for specific reasons. Currently, the number of Covid patients in ICUs stands at 220. 

Meanwhile, earlier this month, the French Government announced it would be extending the requirement for a ‘health pass’ for people to access restaurants, bars, cinemas, museums and tourist attractions such as the Eiffel Tower. 

The pass means that only those who are fully vaccinated, recovered from the virus in the last six months, or a negative test result in the past 48 hours are allowed to visit the public venues or access long-distance transport.

The Government also announced that for those who are unvaccinated, Covid tests will no longer be free and those who have not been jabbed will have to pay for a test each time they want to travel to the venues.

Worth reading in full.

Get the Booster Vaccine or Lose the Freedom to Enjoy Christmas, Warns NHS Chief

Less than a week after Laura Dodsworth wrote a piece on the ‘nudges‘ involved in the Government’s threats of more restrictions, the NHS’s most senior doctor has warned Britons that our freedom to enjoy Christmas could be stripped from us if enough people don’t get a ‘booster’ Covid vaccine.

“The freedom we now all enjoy,” Professor Stephen Powis writes in the Sunday Telegraph, “is a direct result of the country’s willingness and desire to come forward for a Covid jab when it has been offered.” That very ‘freedom’ will be gone again if take-up doesn’t stay high.

Although the country once again finds itself at a crunch point, the NHS vaccination programme remains the strongest weapon in the armoury. Because we rolled out jabs so quickly, we are likely to see protection from the virus waning sooner than other countries. That means that without a booster, many people will find themselves more vulnerable to Covid, going into winter. So it’s vital that everyone gets their top-up jab as soon as they are eligible.

People will be contacted to book their jab six months after their second dose. And if for some reason you don’t receive an invite, you will be able to book directly through the national booking service after you become eligible.

We have to seize the moment, get our booster jab and protect ourselves as we go into what will no doubt be a tough winter, particularly as we are likely to see seasonal flu pose a risk to our health. And to maximise the impact of the vaccination programme we must all continue to act responsibly.

The more of us that come forward for our booster jab, and the more we keep our resolve in helping to limit the spread of infection, then the greater chance we all have of staying well.

So, when your time comes, take up the offer, book your booster and protect the freedom and Christmas that we have all earned and deserve to enjoy.

Worth reading in full.