England’s Health Secretary has urged more people to come forward for vaccination and boosters

COVID virus visualisation two tone

UK COVID-19 cases could go as high as 100,000 a day, England’s Health Secretary Sajid Javid has told a Downing Street briefing.

On 20 October 2021, 49,139 new cases were reported.

Deaths, he said, ‘remain mercifully low’, and ‘the link between cases and hospitalisations and deaths has significantly weakened. But it’s not broken.

He added: ‘Ever since our phenomenal vaccine programme began last winter, we’ve been in a race, a race between the vaccine, and the virus.’

And although we’re still ahead, he said, ‘the gap is narrowing. We’ve come so far thanks to the efforts of so many, but with winter ahead, we can’t blow it now.

He urged more people to come forward for vaccination and boosters.

Dr Jenny Harries, Chief Executive of the UK Health Security Agency, said: ‘Cases now are almost as high as they were in July, and actually not far off where they were last winter.’ 

Mr Javid also talked about the new version of the Delta variant in circulation called AY 4.2.

‘While there’s no reason to believe at this point that AY 4.2 poses a greater threat, the next variant or the one after that might do.’

Plan B

However, ministers rejected calls from the NHS Confederation to enforce England’s ‘Plan B’ now ahead of winter due to NHS pressures.

Mr Javid was asked if face coverings should again be mandatory in public buildings.

He stressed that people are already asked to ‘take more responsibility’ and think about others around them when in enclosed spaces.

‘We don’t believe that the pressures that are currently faced by the NHS are unsustainable.

‘Don’t get me wrong, there are huge pressures, especially in A&E, and in primary care.’

Mr Javid was asked if he was ignoring previous lessons from the pandemic as cases rise.

In terms of needing Plan B, ‘we’re not at that point yet’, he said.

He would not commit to a number for hospitalisations that would trigger the contingency plan. ‘We’re looking at a number of factors and taking them all into account,’ Mr Javid said.

‘Wilfully negligent’ 

Commenting on Mr Javid’s statement, BMA Council Chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said that it was ‘incredibly concerning that he is not willing to take immediate action to save lives and to protect the NHS.’

He continued: ‘It is wilfully negligent of the Westminster Government not to be taking any further action to reduce the spread of infection, such as mandatory mask wearing, physical distancing, and ventilation requirements in high-risk settings, particularly indoor crowded spaces. These are measures that are the norm in many other nations.’

The Deputy Chief Executive of NHS Providers Saffron Cordery said: ‘The Health Secretary has ruled out implementing “Plan B” of the COVID-19 winter for now, but it is vital that the Government keeps a close watch on these figures and takes the necessary steps if needed to prevent the NHS being overwhelmed, particularly as we head into winter.   

‘The Government needs to base these decisions on the full information it receives, including the wider societal impact of renewed restrictions, balanced with the multiple pressures the NHS is facing.’

Antivirals

The Government is also buying COVID-19 antiviral treatments from Merck Sharp and Dohme (MSD) and Pfizer, Mr Javid announced.

The Department of Health and Social Care has said that 480,000 courses of MSD’s molnupiravir have been secured, plus 250,000 courses of Pfizer’s PF-07321332/ritonavir.

In clinical trials, molnupiravir reduced the risk of hospital admission or mortality for at-risk adults with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 by 50%.

Pfizer’s antiviral is starting phase 2/3 trials.

‘These antivirals have the potential to speed up recovery time, and to stop infections from progressing’, Mr Javid said.

‘If these treatments get [Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency] approval, then we can provide some of the most vulnerable patients with vital protection’, he said. ‘And I want to deploy them as quickly as possible.’

This article originally appeared on Medscape, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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