Boris Johnson has said the Covid vaccine will get the nation through the winter as he called for everyone to get jabbed and to take their booster shot when called.
The Prime Minister has resisted calls from health leaders for tighter restrictions despite infections rising sharply.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said this week that new cases could reach 100,000 a day, but Downing Street insists there is still spare capacity in the NHS to cope with the pressure.
The Government’s ‘Plan B’ would see mandatory vaccine passports for crowded venues, the reintroduction of compulsory face masks in public places and a return of work from home guidance.
But the measures will only be put in place if the health service comes under ‘significant pressure’, and hospitlisations are still not near second wave levels.
Johnson has said there are no plans for another lockdown, although one of the Government’s top Covid advisers says he fears just that will happen around Christmas.
Modelling by the SAGE group of scientific advisers said it was ‘highly unlikely’ that the NHS would be overwhelmed by Covid this winter, even without restrictions.
It predicts that a combination of immunity from both vaccines and from people who have caught the virus should be enough to keep hospitalisations low enough.
Hospital admissions still are creeping up, but at a much flatter rate compared to daily infections.
The Prime Minister said: ‘Vaccines are our way through this winter. We’ve made phenomenal progress but our job isn’t finished yet, and we know that vaccine protection can drop after six months.
‘To keep yourself, your loved ones, and everyone around you safe, please get your booster when you get the call.
‘We can and will beat this virus but only if we listen to the science and look out for each other.
‘This is a call to everyone, whether you’re eligible for a booster, haven’t got round to your second dose yet, or your child is eligible for a dose – vaccines are safe, they save lives, and they are our way out of this pandemic.’
Four million booster doses have already been administered, and the National Booking Service had its busiest week of booster bookings, with nearly half a million jabs booked over Wednesday and Thursday alone.
Number 10 said: ‘As set out in the autumn and winter plan, the winter months will lead to the increased transmission of viruses.
‘Vaccines are our best line of defence but data shows that the natural immunity provided by vaccines will wane over time, particularly for older adults and those more at risk from Covid.
‘Recent studies suggest protection against death falls from 95% to 80% for AstraZeneca after six months, and from 99% to 90% for Pfizer.
‘The booster programme is designed to top up this waning immunity for those most at risk over the winter months.
‘A 15% drop in efficacy could lead to many more avoidable deaths and cases of severe illness from Covid.
‘Early results from Pfizer shows that a booster dose can increase the protection from our vaccines back up to 95.6% against symptomatic infection.
‘This additional protection is vital, and everyone aged over 50 or who is at high risk from Covid will be invited for their booster jab six months after their second dose.’
Elsewhere, the World Health Organisation warned the vaccine alone will not be able to lift the world out of the pandemic.
Spokesperson Margaret Harris told Times Radio: ‘The problem is focusing on one thing, the vaccine isn’t going to get us out of this. We really have to do other measures.
‘We have got to be serious about not crowding. We have still got to be looking at wearing the masks, when you’re indoors particularly.’
Professor Peter Openshaw, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said case numbers and death rates are currently ‘unacceptable’.
He said measures such as working from home and mask wearing are ‘so important’ as part of efforts to control the spread of Covid.
Speaking in a personal capacity, Prof Openshaw, of Imperial College London, told BBC Breakfast: ‘I’m very fearful that we’re going to have another lockdown Christmas if we don’t act soon.
‘We know that with public health measures the time to act is immediately. There’s no point in delaying.
‘If you do delay then you need to take even more stringent actions later. The immediacy of response is absolutely vital if you’re going to get things under control.
‘We all really, really want a wonderful family Christmas where we can all get back together.
‘If that’s what we want, we need to get these measures in place now in order to get transmission rates right down so that we can actually get together and see one another over Christmas.’
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