Lockdowns not ruled out in PM briefing

By Connor Steel / Photograph from BBC News

BORIS JOHNSON unveiled a new detailed set of plans to handle Covid-19 cases this winter in a TV briefing earlier this evening, releasing details of two routes of action as concerns rise of a disrupted period similar to 2020.

As expected the Government refused to make any firm promises or commitments; opening the door to further lockdowns and restrictions across England over the next six months, but only as a last resort if the NHS is under ‘unsustainable pressure’.

The Prime Minister stated that Britain is in a better position than September 2020, which is deemed to be a result of successful vaccine programmes over the last nine months. In his speech the leader stated that 80% of adults had been double-jabbed, whilst ninety-percent had Covid-19 antibodies to protect against serious symptoms; although he implied that transmission reduction is lower than expected with the vaccines with cases and hospitalisations rising slightly over recent weeks.

In his briefing alongside medical advisors Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, Mr Johnson encouraged people to get the ‘jab’; with the rollout extended to cover 12 to 15 years old in an announcement made late on Monday night. Booster injections will be offered to vulnerable adults under plan A, with letters due to be sent out next week, working alongside the traditional flu jab that has become a regular part of life over recent years.

Other features of the PM’s plan A is the introduction of antiviral drugs such as the one given to ex-USA President Donald Trump in Autumn 2020, with a government taskforce launched in April continuing a search for new drugs to treat Covid-19. NHS Track and Trace will also continue throughout the winter, with those testing positive legally obliged to isolate for 10 days; while PCR and lateral flow tests continue to be free for everybody.

Financial help is also available to counteract the impact of isolation working hours and other crucial aspects of everyday life; whilst a new two-tier travel system (go/don’t go) is expected to be announced before October 1. An international effort is also planned to ‘vaccinate the world’, whilst there will continue to be border restrictions when required to reduce the risk of new variants entering the country at a crucial time of this pandemic.

With an extra £5.4 billion already announced to help the health service support its Covid-19 response, Boris Johnson is confident that all steps working together will mean that our new found freedoms are unaffected this winter.

But despite this positivity there was a sense of caution from the PM, who also has a plan B if NHS services begin to struggle at any point including lockdown; dealing with concerns that other illnesses such as norovirus, RSV (respiratory system virus) and flu could increase as people continue to enjoy their lives. This is particularly tough to ignore as Covid-19 cases have risen over recent days and are higher than last September, with another two national lockdowns needed to halt the spread.

However the Government has stated that any fourth lockdown will be the ‘absolute last resort’, with other smaller measures outlined before hitting the panic button. These are set to include mandatory face mask wearing in public spaces and work from home advice re-imposed; alongside the potential for ‘covid-19 passports’ and stronger Government messaging across the board this winter. However there was no information regarding any new furlough scheme or financial measures if the most serous of restrictions are needed over the coming months.

Plan B will also mean that most orders could be imposed at short notice without a House of Commons’ vote, although this is likely to change as part of the renewal of the Coronavirus Act 2020; the PM is expected to remove most of the powers from this legislation when presented to Parliament in the next two weeks.

More briefings are expected to be held at regular intervals over the winter months, but are unlikely to be scheduled daily and will only cover crucial announcements. All press statements and messages to the nation will furthermore be accompanied by a C9mmons statement from Health Secretary Savid Javid, with MPs updated first whenever possible under Parliamentary processes.

The Government’s 64 page Winter Plan Document can be read and downloaded here.