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Rishi Sunak says booster jabs will prevent another lockdown as he defies health experts warnings

Rishi Sunak has said booster Covid-19 vaccines will prevent another lockdown as he defied health experts who warned the NHS could be overwhelmed this winter.

The Chancellor said the jabs will remain the government's 'first line of defence' in controlling the virus and stopping the NHS from becoming overwhelmed by the virus this winter.

Mr Sunak said whilst the winter would be 'challenging', he ruled out another lockdown as he echoed the sentiments of Prime Minister Boris Johnson who said the measure was 'not on the cards at all'.

They defied warnings from health chiefs who said Covid infections coupled with high numbers of patients with other infections such as flue could put the NHS under 'significant pressure'.

And in a move which could indicate the pressure ministers expect the NHS to come under this winter, England's vaccine chief Dr Emily Lawson has been drafted back into the NHS to oversee the Covid booster jab rollout.  

Rishi Sunak has said booster Covid-19 vaccines will prevent another lockdown as he defied health experts who warned the NHS could be overwhelmed this winter

England's vaccine chief Dr Emily Lawson has been drafted back into the NHS to oversea the Covid booster jab rollout

Only 4million out of the 8.7m patients in England who are eligible for a booster now have had one, including just a third of care home residents and half of over-80s.  

But Mr Sunak insisted that the booster jabs and the current vaccine scheme means Britain is in a new phase of controlling the virus. 

He told The Times: 'I think we're just in a very different place to where we were a year ago because of the vaccine. 

'There's this enormous wave of protection, and that changes things. That's our first line of defence.'

Mr Sunak admitted that whilst the winter would be 'challenging', it wouldn't mean resorting to another lockdown. 

'There's a range of options that are available, and those are not options that involve lockdowns or very significant economic restrictions,' he said.

It comes as daily Covid hospitalisations breached 1,000, while infections rose to 49,298 and deaths jumped by a quarter to 180. 

Boris Johnson also said on Friday that another lockdown was not planned during a trip to a vaccine clinic in West London, adding that the current numbers were 'fully in line' with what was expected. 

He admitted working from home and light measures were being 'kept under constant review' but ruled out another lockdown. 'We see absolutely nothing to indicate that that is on the cards at all,' the Prime Minister added.  

SAGE scientists also insisted it was 'highly unlikely' that the NHS would be overwhelmed this winter even without restrictions in advice that justifies No10's bold decision to reject immediately resorting to 'Plan B'. 

But the scientific advisers told the government that it must ensure 'Plan B' restrictions to tackle coronavirus can be 'rapidly' deployed if needed.     

Tory MPs feared Boris Johnson (on a visit to a Covid vaccination centre at Little Venice Sports Centre in London today) would cave to pressure and put the nation on a 'slippery slope' back to another lockdown by triggering the contingency plans. They urged the PM not to be 'bullied' by health chiefs into imposing new rules

But the panel of top scientists — which include Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Chris Whitty — warned against complacency, adding there was still a threat if people suddenly drop all precautions, vaccines suddenly wane in younger groups or a new variant becomes dominant. 

They told the Government to have contingencies in place so that face masks, working from home and vaccine passports can be quickly introduced if the epidemic suddenly deviates from the 'optimistic' modelling. The group said the measures could make a 'big difference' if enacted quickly.

The findings will give the Government confidence that it has made the right decision by not reverting to its winter 'Plan B' despite rising infection rates and pressure from NHS bosses, parts of the media and many scientists. 

Tory MPs feared Boris Johnson would cave to pressure and put the nation on a 'slippery slope' back to another lockdown by triggering the contingency plans. They urged the PM not to be 'bullied' by health chiefs into imposing new rules.  

Official data published today revealed Covid infections have reached their highest level since mid-January with nearly one in 50 infected with the virus last week — but cases are mostly concentrated in children. 

SAGE's scenarios do not look at the burden of flu on the NHS. Experts predict a big spike in influenza admissions this winter due to a lack of natural immunity on the back of lockdown. The modelling also doesn't include efforts to tackle a record-high waiting list triggered by pandemic-disrupted care, which doctors have warned gives them less space to handle a rise in hospitalisations. 

Modelling by SAGE predicted that the combination of vaccine-acquired immunity and natural protection would be enough to keep hospital rates below levels seen in the second wave. Even in the most pessimistic scenarios, the group estimated that daily Covid hospital admissions would not rise above 1,500. More optimistic models had them peaking at below 1,000 in winter. The above charts are based on modelling by Warwick University and look at how quickly people go back to pre-pandemic social contacts. It was based on the booster doses given 'sustained' immunity

Other SAGE modelling took into account 'repeated' waning from booster doses, and projected that hospital admissions could breach levels seen during the second wave in January under the worst-case projections

Only around 4.5million (green line) out of the 9.3million eligible people (blue line) in England have received the crucial third dose, prompting ministers to urge people to come forward for their inoculations

Boris Johnson delays decision on fresh Covid curbs until after half-term

Boris Johnson has delayed a decision on whether fresh Covid curbs are needed until after half-term in the hope the school break will halt the surge in cases.

Government sources say that ministers have been startled by the rapid spread of the virus among schoolchildren, where infection rates are up to ten times higher than among the wider population.

A source said ministers hoped that next week's half-term holiday in England would break the increase in daily infections, which rose to more than 50,000 yesterday for the first time since July.

The Prime Minister yesterday said that he was sticking with the existing approach for now, despite a growing clamour from the medical profession to move to the Government's 'Plan B'.

The introduction of Plan B would see the return of mandatory face masks, the introduction of controversial vaccine passports and the revival of the work from home guidance.

Speaking on a visit to the Covid vaccine centre at the Little Venice Sports Centre in west London as the SAGE files were released, the Prime Minister said he was fully confident with the decision to stick to Plan A.

He said: 'Our autumn and winter plan always predicted that cases would rise around about now and we're certainly seeing that in the numbers.'

He said we are seeing 'high levels of infection' but they are not outside the parameters of what was predicted. 'But it's very important that people do follow the guidance on general behaviour, on being cautious, on wearing masks in confined places where you're meeting people you don't normally meet.

'Wear a mask, wash hands, ventilation, all that kind of thing, but also get your booster jab, and that's the key message that we want to get across.

'That's why we've timed it for now because there is some evidence obviously that the vaccines start to wane, and you get really very, very good protection with the booster. I mean, a new study says about 95% protection.

'So we are seeing the numbers come up, yesterday I think we did 250,000 across the country.

'We want to see them ramped up even further. My thanks to everybody for coming forward but we need to see a lot more.'

Mr Johnson, who watched Nitza Sarner, 88, receive her booster, was asked if he will set an example by wearing a mask in Parliament.

He told reporters: 'I think there are lots of steps that we need to take to continue to follow the guidance.

'So commonsensical things – washing your hands, wearing a mask in confined spaces where you don't normally meet other people …where you are meeting people that you don't normally meet I should say.

'That's sensible. But the key message for today is for all people, over 50s, think about getting your booster jab.

'When you get the call, get the jab.'

Asked if he was ignoring advice about working from home, Boris Johnson said: 'We keep all measures under constant review.

'We do whatever we have to do to protect the public but the numbers that we're seeing at the moment are fully in line with what we expected in the autumn and winter plan.

'What we want people to do is to come forward and get their jabs. We also want young people, we want kids at school, to be getting their jabs.'

Tory MPs fear 'slippery slope' back to lockdown if Boris Johnson triggers Covid 'Plan B' 

Tory MPs fear Boris Johnson will put the nation on a 'slippery slope' back to another lockdown if he triggers the Government's coronavirus 'Plan B'.

Spiking Covid-19 case numbers have prompted concerns that the Prime Minister could soon have to implement his fall back strategy which includes instructing people to work from home and to wear face masks.

But anti-lockdown Conservative MPs are adamant there should be no return to draconian curbs, claiming that the Government must not be 'bullied' by health chiefs into imposing new rules.

Meanwhile, hospitality bosses have also warned against reimposing restrictions, warning the PM that many pubs, bars and restaurants would 'go to the wall'.

The hospitality industry is concerned that even light touch restrictions could hit bookings and put 'Christmas at risk'.

The Government has insisted the triggering of 'Plan B' is not imminent, with the focus currently on rolling out vaccine booster shots.

But ministers struck an ominous tone this morning as they said the blueprint is 'there for a reason'.

He added: 'There'll be booking systems opening from tomorrow in addition to the vaccination programme in schools.

'So the message is that the boosters are fantastic. The levels of protection are really very high, but it's also very, very important that you get one because the double vaccination provides a lot of protection against serious illness and death but it doesn't protect you against catching the disease, and it doesn't protect you against passing it on.

'So now is the time to get your booster.'

It comes as Dr Emily Lawson who was the head of England's coronavirus vaccine delivery drive, has been drafted back into the job.     

Dr Lawson had been behind the original success of the rollout of the Covid-19 jabs, but was seconded to No 10's delivery unit - a team in charge of ensuring the Government delivers on its policies - in April.

But now Dr Lawson has returned to the health service as it steels itself for the winter months.     

The rollout of the first and second doses of the coronavirus vaccine across the country has been widely celebrated, however the uptake of booster vaccines has not been as swift.

Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) member Professor Jeremy Brown said the number of different vaccination programmes currently taking place was making the delivery more complicated.

He told Channel 4 News: 'Well, at the moment there are different vaccination programmes going on. There's the booster programme, there's the third dose in those that are immunosuppressed, and there's the vaccination programme in children.

'So there are sort of competing vaccination programmes occurring simultaneously, which makes things more complicated for the delivery people.'

But he added he thought the booster programme has 'progressed pretty well'.

The slower progress as colder months draw near could be one of the reasons for Dr Lawson being moved back to the NHS from No 10.

Fewer than half of eligible residents in older age care homes in England have received a coronavirus booster jab, the latest available NHS data suggests.

And average daily hospital admissions in England of people with Covid-19 have climbed to their highest level for nearly eight months.

An estimated 5.3 million booster doses of Covid-19 vaccine have been delivered in the UK.

It means around one in nine people in the UK who have received a first and second dose of vaccine are likely to have also received a booster.

On Friday, Dr Lawson said: 'The next phase of the vaccination programme is extremely important - we know that the vaccine is helping us to save lives and so we must focus all of our efforts on rolling out the booster campaign to everyone eligible, as well as ensuring that everyone who has not yet had their first jab, including young people, get the chance to come forward.'

NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard called winter 'another crucial phase' in the fight against the pandemic.

Dr Lawson is expected to return to Downing Street next year, NHS England said.

Booster rollout is going too slow because NHS is sending TEXTS to elderly Britons who 'don't know how to use their phone and book online'

Britain's sluggish booster vaccine rollout is being held up by the NHS sending texts to elderly Britons who 'do not know how to use their phones', medics warned today amid growing demands to speed up the drive and prevent ministers from reimposing restrictions once more.

Reena Barrai, a pharmacist in Surrey, said many patients have come in 'anxious' because they cannot work out how to access the online system to book their top-up dose. 

She added the pharmacy was becoming a 'surrogate' 119 service, with patients coming to her because they did not want to be a burden on the telephone hotline or their doctor.

A couple of GPs said today they were also seeing patients who were struggling to work out how to book booster jabs, and that the 'urgency' to get vaccinated seen during the first drive was lacking. 

It came as one of No10's top advisers said today the wait for booster jabs could be cut to five months amid surging infections across the country. Boris Johnson last night piled pressure on his scientific advisers to slash the waiting time from six months to five, which would make nearly 9million more Britons eligible for the jab.

And today Professor Anthony Harnden, the deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) which set the gap, admitted this was 'something we will need to consider in due course'.

Professor Harnden claimed although the current wait was the 'sweet spot' for shoring up immunity, the country's runaway infections were likely to shift the equation in favour of an earlier third dose. He also shot down calls for over-40s to be offered booster doses, saying the jabs were still doing their job in the age group because they got theirs more recently.

JCVI chiefs have been flexible with dosing times in the past. They extended the gap between first and second jabs from three weeks to 12 in the second wave to get more people partially protected. In July, they slashed this to eight following a surge in Covid cases.

Professor Adam Finn, another JCVI member, said that booster doses would make 'only a modest difference' to infection rates in the UK. Yesterday Britain's infections surged through 50,000 daily cases for the first time in three months. 

The Prime Minister is said to have delayed a decision on whether to deploy 'Plan B' until after half-term in the hope the school break will halt the surge in cases. 

The period between Halloween and New Year's Eve is vital for the hospitality industry as bookings normally soar before a lull in January and February. 

There are growing concerns in the sector that some coronavirus restrictions could be reimposed before the end of the year in a move which could damage consumer confidence. 

Phil Urban, chief executive of Mitchells & Butler, which owns pubs and restaurants including the All Bar One chain, told The Guardian: 'People are very nervous and if you move to Plan B it puts Christmas at risk. 

'The industry is not out of the woods, and just as we get our momentum back we'd have the rug pulled out from under us.' 

Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of UK Hospitality, echoed a similar sentiment as she warned many firms are 'still fragile'. 

'We lost Christmas in its entirety last year so it's desperately important for survivability, getting you through the bleak months of January and February when people don't come out as much,' she said.

'A lot of businesses are still fragile. Any knock at this point in time could have an impact on viability. People will just go to the wall.' 

Some Tory MPs are strongly opposed to the return of any restrictions.

One MP told MailOnline that triggering 'Plan B' could put the country on a 'slippery slope' towards another lockdown.  

They said: 'I am very concerned about the idea of moving to Plan B because you could see that slipping away into another lockdown.

'Although the cases are high, the death rate is pretty low. It seems that if the booster rollout continues then it may keep things at bay.'

Meanwhile, Tory MP Marcus Fysh said the Government must not be 'bullied' into imposing new curbs.

He said: 'The position on this has been to get bullied on different things and I don't think we should be doing that at this point.' 

Care Minister Gillian Keegan said this morning that the Government remains focused on the vaccine rollout as its main defence against the virus after she was asked why 'Plan B' still has not been triggered. 

She told Sky News: 'We laid out Plan A and Plan B and we have just started, as I say, five weeks ago Plan A.

'The most important thing is to do all the tings I have just said: Get that vaccine rolled out, get those boosters rolled out.

'And of course we have Plan B there. It is there for a reason. But right now we are really focusing.

'We know that the vaccine is the best thing we do and really focusing on making sure that that is rolled out.'

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed about one in 55 people in private households in England had Covid-19 in the week to October 16, up from one in 60 the previous week.

In Wales, infection levels were unchanged, but have dropped in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Separate figures showed a further 180 people in the UK had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19, bringing the official UK total to 139,326.