The spectres of compulsory face masks, vaccine passports and working from home were raised yesterday as increased Covid hospital cases sparked a Downing Street warning.
Officials said Britons should prepare for a ‘challenging few months’ after 49,156 infections were recorded yesterday – the highest figure in three months.
Experts are concerned the booster programme was moving too slowly and Sage members yesterday warned ‘other measures’ may be needed to relieve pressure on the NHS.
Last night Boris Johnson’s spokesman said there were ‘currently’ no plans to reintroduce restrictions but that they were keeping ‘a very close watch on the latest statistics’.
Britain led the world in the initial vaccine rollout, but it has now slumped behind Italy, Spain and France in terms of the percentage of the population to be double-jabbed.
All over-50s and the clinically vulnerable can get a booster jab from six months after their second dose. But experts have warned that at the current rate the most vulnerable will not all receive their third vaccination until the end of January.
John Roberts, of the Covid-19 Actuaries Response Group, told The Daily Telegraph: ‘At the start of the booster campaign, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care stated that the aim was to protect the most vulnerable from Covid-19 as we head into the autumn and winter months.
‘But at the current rate, it’s likely to be towards the end of January before the approximately 22million that fall into the most vulnerable groups receive the booster.’
It comes as new radio and TV adverts urging older people to get a coronavirus booster jab and flu vaccine are set to be rolled out later this week.
There are also concerns over low vaccine uptake among children. Only 15 per cent of 12 to 15-year-olds in England have had their first dose, despite nearly one in ten having the virus last week.
Last night Boris Johnson’s spokesman said there were ‘currently’ no plans to reintroduce restrictions but that they were keeping ‘a very close watch on the latest statistics’
Officials said Britons should prepare for a ‘challenging few months’ after 49,156 infections were recorded yesterday – the highest figure in three months
Covid cases, hospitalisations and deaths are all significantly higher in the UK than in western Europe. Yesterday another 45 deaths within 28 days of a positive test were reported.
All over-50s and the clinically vulnerable can get a booster jab from six months after their second dose. But only 3.7million of the 8.3million eligible have so far come forward.
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An Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) report published today found unvaccinated Britons who catch the Delta variant are around 71 per cent less likely to test positive for a second time.
It estimated the risk of infection is slashed by approximately 67 per cent in people given two doses of Pfizer or AstraZeneca’s jabs.
The ONS said there was ‘no evidence’ vaccines offered more immunity than catching Covid itself, despite a number of other studies showing the opposite.
The findings are based on more than 8,000 positive tests across Britain between May and August, when the Delta variant became dominant.
Scientists are still trying to untangle exactly how long naturally-acquired and vaccine immunity lasts.
Protection from the jabs appears to dip at around five months, which is why Britons over the age of 50 are being offered booster doses this autumn.
But the duration of natural immunity remains somewhat of a mystery, made more complicated by the rise of new variants.
If this slow pace continues, it will take until January to offer third jabs to all over-50s – with their immunity waning all the time.
Last month Mr Johnson set out a ‘Plan B’ for further restrictions – including masks, vaccine passports and home working – if the virus surges.
Officials have suggested this will be triggered if hospitalisations start to top 1,000 a day – and the UK is approaching that figure. Yesterday another 915 Covid admissions to NHS hospitals were recorded, the highest figure in a month.
The PM’s official spokesman said: ‘There is absolutely no plan to introduce Plan B currently. We retain that capability if required if we believe the NHS is coming under unsustainable pressure.
‘We obviously keep very close watch on the latest statistics. We always knew the coming months would be challenging.’
Professor Andrew Hayward, a member of Sage, told Radio 4’s World At One programme: ‘We shouldn’t be complacent because there is still huge potential for the NHS to come under a lot of pressure and for there to be a lot of unnecessary deaths.
‘So we need to get the vaccination rates up and we need to be prepared potentially to think about other measures if things do get out of control.’
Yesterday head teacher unions called for children to be allowed to use walk-in vaccination centres in England to boost the numbers jabbed.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: ‘Those who want to get the vaccination should be able to do so as quickly as possible.
‘We know that the high level of cases amongst this age group has led to some pupils who want the vaccine not being able to get it in school, either because they are absent on the day or because they have tested positive for Covid-19 within the last 28 days.’
Enforcement of Scotland’s vaccine passport scheme came into effect yesterday.
Last month Mr Johnson set out a ‘Plan B’ for further restrictions – including masks, vaccine passports and home working – if the virus surges (stock image)
The policy will apply to nightclubs, strip clubs and unseated indoor events with more than 500 people, unseated outdoor events with over 4,000.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics on Friday showed coronavirus infection levels in England are getting close to the peak seen at the height of the second wave and are mostly being driven by rates among schoolchildren.
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The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health’s president, Dr Camilla Kingdon, also warned children should not be left to ‘carry the burden’ of the pandemic.
Schools in England dropped virtually all virus-control measures in July, except twice weekly testing of pupils. Those who get a positive swab must stay home for 10 days.
But amid rising infection rates among youngsters, some schools are quietly reintroducing measures including face masks and telling children to stay home if their sibling has the virus.
It comes as the NHS plans to unveil walk-in vaccine clinics for school children within weeks in an effort to speed up the jabs rollout.
Downing Street said ‘different countries are potentially at different stages of their vaccination programmes and have different measures in place so it’s difficult to compare and contrast’.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman added: ‘What’s important is we strike the right balance between protecting lives and livelihoods.’
The Government’s autumn and winter plan suggested that some measures including the mandatory use of vaccine passports and face coverings could be required in England if cases were putting unsustainable pressure on the NHS.
ONS figures suggest that around one in 10 schoolchildren in Years Seven to 11 in England was estimated to have Covid in the previous week, the highest positivity rate for any age group.
But analysis by the PA news agency suggested there was low take-up of Covid-19 jabs among 12-15 year-olds.
In some areas the rate of vaccine uptake is as low as 5%, while only 15 local authorities in England have managed to give a first jab to at least a quarter of 12 to 15-year-olds, data shows.
The picture is very different in Scotland, where young people can also receive doses of the jab in drop-in vaccination centres, as the take-up is already over 50% in half of local authority areas.
There have been calls for vaccines to be offered to under-16s in walk-in centres rather than in school in order to boost take-up.
James Bowen, director of policy for school leaders’ union NAHT, said: ‘Allowing 12-15 year olds to attend walk-in vaccination centres would be a sensible decision.’
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: ‘In the first instance we are allowing for the jabs to take place through the school immunisation services, this is the long-standing approach that has been used for flu and HPV jabs.
‘We are working very closely with schools, we are going to keep the programme for 12 to 15-year-olds under review.’
The spokesman said a number of factors could be behind the problems with getting jabs into children’s arms, potentially including ‘abhorrent’ abuse and misinformation from protesters at school gates.
‘It is completely unacceptable for anyone to direct abuse or misinformation towards parents, teachers or indeed children,’ the spokesman said.
Meanwhile, French pharmaceutical firm Valneva, whose UK contract for vaccines was cancelled last month, has reported positive results from its Covid-19 trial.