COVID cases could hit 100,000 a day, the health secretary has warned – but he confirmed England will not yet move to Plan B to deal with pressures on hospitals this winter.
Speaking at a Downing Street news conference, Sajid Javid said: “This pandemic is not over. We must all remember that this virus will be with us for the long-term and it remains a threat.”
He issued a fresh plea for people to come forward for their COVID vaccinations and booster jabs, if they are eligible.
“We’ve got the jabs, we just need the arms to put them in,” he added.
COVID news live as UK seeing 1,000 coronavirus hospitalisations – latest updates
And he warned people to make “little steps” to keep hard-won freedoms, saying: “None of us want to go backwards now, so we must all play our part in this national mission”.
He added: “With winter ahead, we can’t blow it now”.
Talking about when the country might move to Plan B, he said the focus “very much remains on what we set out in Plan A”.
Professor Stephen Powis, the national medical director for NHS England, said there is “no one number that we would use”, in terms of how bad COVID-19 figures would need to be before Plan B was implemented.
Mr Javid appeared to link the possible reintroduction of COVID measures this winter to the success of the booster jabs programme in the coming weeks.
He said that getting a top-up vaccination was “not just to save lives, but to keep your freedoms too”.
“Because all of these precious moments that we’ve been able to restore over the past few months – the loved ones we’ve been able to see and the collective experiences we’ve been able to share – they’ve been possible thanks to our vaccination programme and because so many of you came forward when it was your time,” he added.
“If we want to secure these freedoms for the long-term than the best thing we can do is come forward once again when that moment comes.
“After the decisive steps that we’ve taken this year, none of us want to go backwards now.”
During the news conference, the health secretary announced the UK has struck deals for two new coronavirus treatments.
The antivirals – called Molnupiravir and ritonavir – are yet to be approved by the medicines regulator.
But, if they are approved, they are expected to be given to those most at risk from the virus, helping to reduce the severity of symptoms and ease pressure on the NHS this winter.
On Wednesday, the UK recorded 49,139 new COVID-19 cases and 179 deaths within 28 days of a positive test.
And on Tuesday, the UK recorded 223 deaths within 28 days of a positive COVID test – the highest daily number since early March.
Amid mounting concern about rising cases, Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation which represents health bodies, has warned the country risks “stumbling into a winter crisis”.
And he has called on the government to enact “Plan B” of its strategy for coping with autumn and winter pressures on hospitals “without delay”.
The government’s Plan B, which was set out by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Mr Javid last month, could include the reintroduction of a legal requirement to wear face coverings in some settings; the potential introduction of COVID vaccine passports; and the possible return of the work from home command.
Mr Taylor also called for a “plan C” to be outlined to health leaders, should the measures in Plan B prove to be “insufficient”.
However, speaking to Sky News earlier on Wednesday, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng insisted there would not be another national lockdown.
And a Number 10 spokesman said: “There isn’t any proposed plan for any further lockdowns. We are sticking to the autumn and winter plan we have set out.”
Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, has urged people to get vaccinated if they haven’t already and to get a booster jab if offered one.
And he has advised that “ventilation, masks in crowded indoor spaces and hand washing remain important”.
“COVID-19 cases are rising and winter is drawing closer,” Prof Whitty added on Twitter.
Latest analysis published by health officials in Northern Ireland stated that unvaccinated individuals aged 50 and over are almost five times as likely to be admitted to hospital with COVID than a fully vaccinated person.
Meanwhile, for adults under 50, an unvaccinated person is almost 16 times as likely to need hospital treatment.
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