People can expect Christmas celebrations to be “normal” this year, the Health Secretary has said.
Saji Javid has agreed with the Prime Minister that the festive season will be better than last year when lockdown restrictions were in place, but warned everyone must continue playing their part.
Mr Sajid said that while it is difficult to predict what the situation will be like in three months’ time, ministers are not currently planning to impose tougher restrictions.
The government set out its winter plan to tackle Covid-19 over the coming months in September, with ministers insistent that another lockdown would be an "absolutely last resort".
However, Covid-19 cases have been rising in recent weeks, sparking fears that stricter ‘Plan B’ rules may be needed to keep infection levels down.
The rising cases has prompted renewed calls from the government for people to get vaccinated in a bid to keep Christmas celebrations on track.
Asked on LBC radio if he thought Christmas was “safe”, Mr Javid said: “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.”
What is the Covid winter plan?
Under ‘plan A’, no additional restrictions will be reintroduced over the winter, meaning there should be no limit on the number of people you can meet, and shops, pubs and restaurants will not be forced to close.
The government is hoping to avoid the need to bring in stricter rules by relying on the booster vaccine programme, which is being offered to all over 50s, those who are clinically extremely vulnerable and frontline health and social care workers.
Children aged 12 to 15 are also being invited for a single vaccine dose, which it is hoped will help to keep infection levels under control.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid has recommended that people wear face masks in crowded and enclosed spaces this winter, although this is not mandatory.
Mr Javid also warned that a ‘plan B’ may be implemented if efforts to control the spread of coronavirus are not effective.
This could see the return of mandatory face masks in some settings, the introduction of Covid passports to access nightclubs and advice to work from home.
However, the government has said that the plan would only be implemented if there is “unsustainable” pressure on the NHS, with Mr Johnson suggesting that the measures could be put in place at different times.
He said: “What I would stress about plan B is that it contains a number of different shots in the locker, and you wouldn’t necessarily play them all at once – far from it, you would want to do things in a graduated way.”
Could there be another lockdown this winter?
The government has outlined a ‘plan A’ and ‘plan B’ for tackling coronavirus this winter, but there is still potential that even tougher measures could be needed if cases surge.
While ministers have said they expect the Plan B contingency measures to be “sufficient” to avoid a significant resurgence in Covid-19 infections this winter, there has been no guarantee that another lockdown is completely off the table.
A possible ‘Plan C’ could see nationwide restrictions reimposed, although the government has insisted another lockdown would be a “last resort”.
Another national lockdown also seems unlikely because fresh legislation would be required to introduce it.
Under a six-monthly review of the Coronavirus Act, the government has promised to scrap a number of its powers, including the ability to shut down entire sectors of the economy, temporarily shut schools, and ban social gatherings.
Some of the only legal powers remaining to ministers include the ability to require people to self-isolate, the power to allow local authorities to respond to an imminent threat to public health and the power to provide financial support to those forced to quarantine.
Speaking after the Covid winter plan was announced last month, Mr Javid told BBC Breakfast: “No one wants to see another lockdown, I certainly don’t.
“I don’t think we are going to need to see another lockdown. I think the vaccines are working.
“But I think it would be irresponsible for any health minister in the world to say that this or that is 100 per cent ruled out.
“Not least because I just don’t know whether at some time in the future – next year, the year after, the year after that – there might be a vaccine escape variant that doesn’t work with the current suite of vaccines.”
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