Following the decision by the government yesterday to tighten Covid restrictions in England, the Health Secretary has this morning further reiterated the data that lies behind the government’s thinking.
Speaking to the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme this morning, Sajid Javid said, “What has changed in recent days, is that new data from the UK health security agency about the threat of this, how quickly it spreads, is that it is much faster than Delta. It is the fastest spreading variant we have seen so far with covid, with a doubling time of between two and half to three days, which means that at the current rate, it would lead to something like a million infections by the end of month”.
Javid also pointed to how the rates of hospitalizations in South Africa from the new Omicron variant, the country where it first came to light, have also doubled in the last week.
Continuing the health secretary said, “It suggests that the effectiveness of the vaccine, certainly two doses, is certainly less with Omicron, certainly when you compare that with Detla”.
“We have always been clear that should new data emerge, that suggests things are moving in the wrong direction, and particularly if it would mean that the NHS would come under unsustainable pressure, then we would act and implement our contingency plan”.
In yesterday’s announcement, the government has called for people to work from home, and detailed how vaccine certification will be required for entry into nightclubs and large indoor and outdoor venues. Mask wearing has also been extended to “most” indoor settings, including theatres.
Describing the government’s response as ‘balanced and proportionate’ Javid said of the measures that, “They will have a significant impact in delaying the spread of the new variant, buying us more time, time that we will use to build our defences. The primary defence still remains our vaccination programme, in particular the booster programme”.
With some countries in Europe, such as Austria moving to introduce mandatory vaccination, and the new German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also indicating his support for this approach, the Health Secretary made it clear that this policy will not be followed in the UK.
Aside from those working in high risk settings such as social care and the health service, Javid said of compulsory vaccinations that, “My view is that it is unethical and that also at a practical level it wouldn’t work”.
Yesterday, the free market think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs warned that even without a full national lockdown, additional Covid restrictions could easily knock 2 per cent off GDP – costing the UK economy £4 billion a month.