On right path to save Christmas if we all get our booster jabs, says Sajid Javid

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Sajid Javid insisted the country is “firmly” sticking to Plan A thanks to our remarkable vaccine success. And he urged people to get their booster jabs to ensure the nation can “look forward to Christmas together”. His words of encouragement come as virus panic sweeps across Europe. Germany is to follow Austria in making vaccines compulsory amid a worrying surge in Covid cases. Violence has also erupted in a number of European cities over the return of strict lockdown rules aimed at curbing a rise in infections.

But Health Secretary Mr Javid said the UK has the “right measures” in place to curb infections. He said: “We’ve said all along that we’ve got Plan A, and that’s where we firmly are at the moment. “If we needed to take further measures with Plan B then we would do so, but we’re not at that point.”

Plan A, announced in September, focuses on jabs, testing and border controls and will be followed if the number of infections remains manageable and the NHS is not overwhelmed. However, as soon as the health service starts to struggle, Plan B measures – such as face masks, vaccine passports and working from home – will be reintroduced.

The Government yesterday said a further 61 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid, bringing the UK total to 143,927. The Office for National Statistics confirmed case rates remain relatively stable with another 40,004 recorded.

Mr Javid said scientific data currently shows the UK is unlikely to be hit by the European wave of infections. He added: “As we all look forward to Christmas, it’s very sad to see cases surging in certain parts of Europe. We’ve always known that this virus loves the winter. It likes the colder, darker days that winter brings and we need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to protect ourselves against that. What’s made a real difference in the UK is our hugely successful booster programme.”

He said that almost 15 million booster jabs have been given already, covering some quarter of the population over the age of 12. Studies show that the protection you get from having a booster almost doubles from 50 percent to more than 90 percent.

Mr Javid said: “All of us, we’ve all got a role to play in this and in our national vaccination programme. And if you’re eligible for your first shot, second shot, third shot, please come forward, and let’s look forward to Christmas together.”

His view was backed up by doctors and scientists. Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, one of the team behind the creation of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, said it is “unlikely” the UK will see a rise similar to parts of Europe. He said: “We’ve actually had some spread [of the virus] going on since the summer, and so I think it’s unlikely that we’re going to see the very sharp rise in the next few months that’s just been seen. We’re already ahead of that with this particular virus, the Delta variant.” Sir Andrew said that vaccines might have prevented about 300,000 deaths in the UK.

Professor John Edmunds said the latest wave on the continent underlines “how quickly” things can go wrong, and how vital it is for millions of Britons yet to be jabbed to take up their invites. The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies group member said: “There are still many millions of people here in the UK who have not been fully vaccinated – it’s essential now. What you see now, particularly in central Europe, with this very rapid increase in cases, you see the importance of vaccination, how critical it is that people who need their boosters should come forward as rapidly as possible and get vaccinated.”

Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, said there were a number of reasons why the UK might see lower cases than elsewhere. This includes the fact the Delta variant became dominant in parts of Europe later than it did in the UK, and that things were reopened earlier here.

She said: “We’re all looking with grave concern actually in trying to determine whether there are differences in the situation in Europe, or whether it’s just a matter of time until this faces us here. We dealt with our Delta wave in the summer and early autumn. We’re still in it of course but not those big rises. And then the other ­features are around ­unfortunately, because we’ve had high infections in the past. We have probably a bit more natural immunity in the population, as in immunity post-infection, particularly for younger groups who’ve not been eligible for vaccines.”

All over-50s, and those with underlying health issues, are able to book booster jabs. But slots will be opened up to those aged between 40 and 49 from today. Sixteen and 17-year-olds will also be able to book in for their second jab from Monday.

Mr Javid suggested the booster programme could be extended further. He said: “We will keep under review how that might be extended in the future. If it makes sense to go further then we will.”

Scientists are increasingly hopeful that the booster jabs rollout and immunity from the summertime spread of the more transmissible Delta variant should help the nation escape the European surge in infections. The vaccine rollouts are also slightly different in that the dosing gap between first and second jabs in many of the European countries was smaller than in the UK, it was said.

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