Sajid Javid defended not bringing in more stringent measures now, as set out in the Government’s winter plan for tacking the virus, saying Covid vaccines, boosters and new treatments offered “a very strong” package of tools at present.
He denied the UK was in the same position as this time last year, saying the “big, big difference” was that vaccines were offering a strong line of defence against Covid-19.
He told Sky News: “We’ve also got to have plans in place, just in case, for example, there is a new variant of concern, let’s say, (it’s) highly infectious, has some kind of vaccine-escape capability, we’ve got to prepare for that and have things ready to go just in case.”
Asked if a new variant was the trigger point for a move to Plan B, he said: “No, a dangerous new variant would be of course of huge significant concern, but there could be other issues.
“So for example, what happens in the NHS is going to be hugely important to me, to the whole country, making sure that we don’t get to a position again where the NHS becomes unsustainable.
“I think we’re going to have to look at a number of measures… so of course that would be the level of hospitalisation, it will be the pressures on A&E, the pressures on the workforce, so we’d have to take all of these together…”
However, he declined to put a number on how many cases or admissions would trigger Plan B.
Under the blueprint set out by the Government on Tuesday, Plan B includes measures such as vaccine passports, mandatory face masks and advice to work from home.
It comes as modelling prepared for the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) by the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling operational sub-group (Spi-M-O), dated September 8, said there is still “the potential for another large wave of hospitalisations” as the pandemic continues.
“While the relationship between cases and hospitalisations has changed due to vaccination, increasing cases remain the earliest warning sign that hospital admissions are likely to rise,” it said.
University modelling provided to Spi-M-O shows that the range of hospital admissions per day in the next few months could range from a few hundred up to around 8,000.
Sage said the graphs are “neither forecasts nor predictions” and that the modelling suggesting around 8,000 admissions per day was “highly unlikely” to happen and was considered an “extreme trajectory.”
But even the most optimistic scenario puts hospital admissions at “up to” around 2,000 per day in England.
Sage said: “If combined with other winter pressures or seasonal effects; this could lead to a difficult few months for the health and care sector.”
The scientists added that a “relatively light set of measures”, suggested as mask-wearing or home-working, could curb infections and should be brought in earlier rather than later in the course of the pandemic.
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