Reuters / London
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson should prepare to introduce some measures to limit rising Covid-19 cases as acting early will reduce the need for tougher restrictions later, his scientific advisers said in advice published yesterday.
Johnson’s government has said there is no need yet to introduce a “Plan B” involving mask mandates, work from home orders and vaccine passports, even as cases rise after he scrapped England’s Covid restrictions in the summer.
But Health Secretary Sajid Javid has warned that such measures could be introduced if more people don’t come forward for Covid-19 vaccines and booster shots.
Covid-19 cases in Britain are up 17.9% over the last seven days, and the reproduction “R” number is estimated between 1.0 and 1.2.
Any figure above one suggests an exponential growth in cases.
“In the event of increasing case rates, earlier intervention would reduce the need for more stringent, disruptive, and longer-lasting measures,” the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) said in minutes from a October 14 meeting.
“SAGE advises that policy work on the potential reintroduction of measures should be undertaken now so that it can be ready for rapid deployment if required.”
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) yesterday found that Covid-19 prevalence had risen again.
One of the areas with highest prevalence was the southwest, which was impacted by false negative test results from a lab that was suspended last week.
The ONS said Covid prevalence was at its highest level since January, when England had just entered a third national lockdown, although deaths are much lower.
Johnson has said that the widespread deployment of vaccines means that the link between cases and deaths has been disrupted.
He has said that the government will rely on vaccines rather than lockdowns to navigate a difficult winter, and SAGE said that things were unlikely to be as bad as last winter.
“Scenarios modelled for the coming winter and into 2022 suggest Covid-19 hospital admissions above the level seen in January 2021 are increasingly unlikely, but there are uncertainties around behaviour change and waning immunity,” the minutes said.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said it was investigating a Delta subvariant called AY.4.2 as it was possibly more transmissible than Delta, though there was no evidence that it caused more severe disease or rendered vaccines ineffective.
“It is not unexpected that new variants will continue to arise as the pandemic goes on, particularly while the case rate remains high,” UKHSA chief executive Jenny Harries said.
“However, it should serve as objective evidence that this pandemic is not over.”
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