British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is dropping vaccine passports, mandatory face mask rules and work-from-home regulations, and will instead rely primarily on vaccinations to get the country through the winter months.
Mr Johnson presented the government’s pandemic strategy for England on Tuesday and it mainly focused on extending vaccinations to younger adolescents and launching a booster program for frontline health workers and people over 50. Governments of Scotland, Wales and the North Ireland, which manages its own health systems, is likely to follow suit.
The Prime Minister has ruled out mandatory passports for vaccines and face mask requirements, at least for now. They would only be introduced if COVID-19 cases rose sharply and hospitals were overwhelmed.
“We are confident in the vaccines that have made such a difference in our lives and are now stepping up that effort,” Mr Johnson said at a televised press conference. “We are now moving forward with the booster program… which means we will build even higher walls of immunization and vaccine protection in this country. “
Unlike Canada, where several provinces require vaccine passports to enter bars, restaurants and indoor sports facilities, Mr Johnson has stepped back from the idea. In July, he said vaccine certification would be required for nightclubs and major sporting events from the end of September. But this week, he ditched the plan and left it up to individual institutions to decide whether they required certificates.
“We do not see the need for compulsory certification now, but we will continue to work with the many companies that are preparing such a program,” he said on Tuesday. However, he added that he would reconsider the matter if hospitals were under pressure.
Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, has caused confusion, saying vaccine certifications will help stop the spread of the virus. “From a scientific point of view, no one would doubt that you are safer if you go to a covered place and everyone around you is vaccinated,” he said at the press conference. . “How it’s done is really the ministers’ business. “
Mr Johnson expressed confidence that Britain has started learning to live with COVID-19 even as health officials report around 30,000 new infections every day – nearly three times more than there are is one year old.
The big difference has been hospitalizations and deaths, which remain well below levels seen during the peak of the pandemic last January. Currently, 8,400 people hospitalized have the disease, about five times less than at the height of the epidemic. Mortality figures also fell below 200 per day, compared to more than 1,000 per day in January.
However, the daily numbers have risen recently and Mr Johnson said the government will closely monitor hospital admissions for any signs the National Health Service is under strain. If the NHS is overwhelmed, the Prime Minister has said the government will introduce a ‘plan B’, which could involve mandatory rules on face masks, advice on working from home and vaccine passports in some settings.
The government’s science advisory committee has warned that hospitalizations could drop from around 1,000 a day to between 2,000 and 7,000 next month, as people mix more freely at school and work. “With the current levels of high prevalence combined with unknown behaviors, the burden on health and care facilities could increase very rapidly,” the panel said in a publication released Tuesday.
In addition, there has been confusion over the deployment of the vaccine lately. Earlier this month, a scientific committee that advises the government on vaccines declined to recommend that all children between the ages of 12 and 15 be vaccinated. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) said that although the health benefits of immunizing children slightly outweighed the risks, “the margin of benefit is considered too small to support universal immunization of children. healthy children aged 12 to 15 at this time. “
Nevertheless, this week, the chief medical officers of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland recommended that all children be vaccinated. CMOs argued that social consideration, including disruption to education, increased benefits.
The recall fire also sparked controversy. Several scientists, including Sarah Gilbert who helped develop the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine at the University of Oxford, said large-scale boosters were unnecessary and the additional vaccine should be distributed to countries in dire need of doses. .
On Tuesday, the JCVI recommended booster shots for frontline healthcare workers and adults over 50. The committee said there was growing evidence that immunity to the vaccine wanes over time and that a third dose would protect the most vulnerable population. The government plans to launch the booster program next week and all eligible adults will receive their third injection six months after their second dose.
Dr Whitty defended the recall program arguing that Britain has taken a middle course. The JCVI “didn’t say no boosters at all… but they didn’t go out of their way to recommend universal boosters for everyone,” he said.
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