UK sets out pandemic plan for fall and winter; booster shots for over 50s to begin next week

U.K. Health Secretary Sajid Javid on Tuesday outlined the government’s fall-winter plan to tackle the coronavirus crisis, detailing a series of policies aimed at averting the need for more lockdowns.

His comments come shortly after British officials gave the green light to offer Covid-19 vaccine boosters to vulnerable people and everyone aged over 50-years-old six months after their second dose.

The U.K.’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation said it recommended that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was used for the booster dose, or alternatively a half-dose of a Moderna shot.

Javid said he had accepted this advice from the JCVI, and the National Health Service in England expects to begin next week. Wales’ health minister has accepted JCVI’s advice on booster vaccines.

Health and care policy is devolved across the U.K., with different provisions made in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Separately, all children aged 12 to 15 years old in England will be offered one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot. The move, which follows in the footsteps of many other countries, is designed to help reduce disruption to education.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to comment further on the country’s fall-winter Covid plan when he hosts a press conference from Downing Street later this afternoon.

It is expected that Johnson will declare that he is firmly opposed to introducing lockdown measures once again. He is also seen as likely to scrap the country’s so-called “traffic light” system for overseas travel and higher-risk “red list” countries are expected to be significantly reduced.

Winter could be ‘bumpy at times’
Professor Neil Ferguson, a leading epidemiologist from Imperial College London, said earlier this week that another nationwide lockdown could not be ruled out “completely” in the coming months.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4′s “Today” show on Monday, Ferguson was asked whether another lockdown would not be necessary following the country’s vaccination drive. “I hope so,” he said. “I don’t think that you can rule out anything completely but I hope so.”

“I think with this level of immunity that we have in the population, if we do need to further drive down transmission then it may not require full lockdown,” Ferguson said.

To date, the U.K. has recorded almost 7.3 million Covid cases and 134,587 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

On Monday, the country reported 30,825 new coronavirus cases and 61 deaths within 28 days of a positive test. This compares to 29,173 infections and 56 fatalities recorded on Sunday, while over 41,000 cases and 45 deaths were announced this time last week.

England’s deputy chief medical officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, warned on Tuesday that the coronavirus crisis in the coming months could be “bumpy at times.”

He said other respiratory viruses were “highly likely” to make a return over this period, saying the government’s aim was to “stay on top of things.”

In winter, people tend to spend more time indoors clustered together, with less ventilation and less personal space than in summer.

Respiratory infections, such as coronaviruses, are spread by droplets that are released when a person coughs or sneezes. Health experts say colder and drier conditions in winter strongly affects the transmission of flu-like illnesses.

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