People can expect Christmas to be “normal”, the Health Secretary has said, as he urged people to have their Covid-19 vaccines.
Sajid Javid said no “sensible health secretary across the world would want to predict exactly where we’re going to be in three months’ time, or six months’ time”, pointing to the continued risk from new variants.
But he told BBC Breakfast: “For all those people like me that are hoping and planning for a normal Christmas – which I do by the way, I think that’s where we’ll be, we’ll have a normal Christmas – if we want, let’s just keep playing our part.”
Mr Javid said he agreed with the Prime Minister that people can expect a better Christmas than last year, when lockdown restrictions were in place.
Asked on LBC radio whether he thought Christmas was “safe”, the Cabinet Minister added: “I think it is as long as we do what we all need to do – everyone’s got a role to play in this.
“We all want a fantastic Christmas and we can ensure that by getting out there and getting our vaccines.
“There are still some five million people out there that haven’t had a single dose of the vaccine and and we need to basically tell them they need to do that, not just to protect themselves but to protect their loved ones, to do their bit, but also there’s other sensible behaviours that we can all have over the next few months.
“It’s getting darker, we can see it’s getting colder, we will spend more time indoors, and so we should think about hand hygiene, about getting tested regularly, especially if you’re going to meet your more vulnerable… perhaps an elderly relative or someone.. so if we can do all that, I’m sure that we’re going to have a great Christmas.”
Mr Javid rejected Labour’s call to move to Plan B following mounting pressure over the weekend. Plan B measures include guidance to work from home, the mandatory use of face masks and vaccine passports for places such as nightclubs.
Several leading scientists, including Professor Adam Finn from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), believe stricter measures are needed.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) has said if Plan B measures are brought in, they should be implemented in unison, with working from home having the biggest impact on Covid cases.
Mr Javid said: “We don’t think we have reached the point where Plan B needs to be activated, but, of course, we will keep it under review.”
Downing Street again later insisted it was not the time to move to Plan B.
“If the public continue to abide by the behaviours and guidance we have set out, and those eligible get their booster jabs, we believe we can further curb cases and bring rates down, along with hospitalisation and deaths,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.
“There is no plan to move to Plan B at this stage.”
The Government is keen for people to book booster jabs, with at least 6.1 million doses now given across the UK.
People who are eligible for boosters must wait six months after their second dose of a vaccine after JCVI experts said this was the “sweet spot” for maximum protection.
Mr Javid told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “At the moment the booking system does not allow you to book until you hit six months and one week and I actually think that needs to be changed, and we’re in the process of changing that so I want to allow people to book early.”
Jeremy Brown, professor of respiratory medicine at University College London Hospitals, who sits on the JCVI, said it “was not absolutely necessary” to reduce the interval for booster jabs from six months to five months.
Prof Brown told Sky News: “The issue with boosters is that we’re trying to make sure the booster occurs at a time when the vaccine efficacy has waned to a certain degree, not much but enough to warrant a booster, and also to ensure that we have a long-term protection that persists for as long as possible, and the gap makes a difference.”
Elsewhere, Professor Peter Openshaw, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), told the Today programme that reintroducing mandatory face masks and working from home would not be “problematic”.
He said: “I don’t think it’s a binary go for Plan B or nothing, it’s very clear that the measures that are in included in Plan B are sensible and not very disruptive.
“It’s not problematic to give clear leadership about the use of face masks, and working at home if you can is also not particularly disruptive for many people.
“Those measures are likely to lead to a pretty good reduction in the really unacceptable number of cases that we’ve got at the moment.
“To my mind, the introduction of vaccine passports is also fine, it’s been accepted very easily in most other western European countries.”
Prof Openshaw added: “What we’re facing at the moment is unacceptable, we’ve got roughly one in 55 people infected, which is an astonishingly high rate compared to most other west European countries.
“This is connected with the lack of clear messaging about sensible measures that we should all be taking in order to reduce the spread of infection.”
Dr Nick Scriven, former president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said: “Areas of the NHS are currently experiencing conditions outside of anyone’s experience and this comes hot on the heels of two years of unrelenting pressure.
“The reality will no doubt be more dire than many trusts are letting on as they are often fearful of declaring Opel 4 (highest level) alert due to the punitive consequences.
“Virtually all of our acute units are facing extremely high rates of patients needing a hospital bed but there is also massive pressure due to a lack of capacity as discharge rates from many inpatient areas are simply not keeping pace with the demand.”