Jonathan Van-Tam today warned the British that another Christmas lockdown could be at stake if people behave as if the Covid crisis is over.
England’s deputy chief said there were ‘tough months to come’ and that the country’s infection rate ‘is running hot’ already heading into what is expected to be a tough winter for the NHS.
In one of his now famous analogies, he added: ‘The final whistle about Covid has not been blown yet.’
He urged the nation to behave responsibly and stressed the importance of face masks – but did not directly call for their forced return to public space.
Professor Van-Tam spoke to the nation in a Q&A this morning, telling BBC Breakfast: ‘Too many people think this pandemic is now over. I personally feel that there are some tough months ahead in the winter and it is not over.
“Christmas and indeed all the darker winter months will be potentially problematic.”
Asked how another festive lockdown could be prevented, he said it depended on ‘how careful we are’ and Britain’s vaccination drive. He urged people to come forward with their booster and flu jabs when invited.
No10 rolls out booster vaccines for over 50s and vulnerable patients as well as jabs for children aged 12 years.
But the government has said it will have to implement its winter ‘Plan B’, including return of coatings, work from home and vaccine passes at major events if the NHS comes under ‘unsustainable’ pressure in the coming months.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief physician, says there are still “tough months ahead” and that the country is “running hot” in early autumn
No10 vaccine advisory panel member says it is ‘too early’ to follow the US in sticking children all the way down to FIVE
It is ‘too early’ for the UK to start stabbing children as young as five, a member of No10’s vaccine advisory group said today after the US confirmed yesterday that they would proceed with the rollout.
Professor Jeremy Brown, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI), said the UK Medicines Agency has not yet examined data on whether the UK should start stabbing five to 11-year-olds.
But he said there may be a case for stabbing vulnerable young people and the decision to vaccinate the entire age group will depend on the rate of infection at the time.
It comes after the United States last night said it would continue to vaccinate children ages five to 11 with Pfizer jab.
The UK has so far limited its vaccine program to over 12 years. JCVI discouraged the government from taking the step as it found that the benefit of stabbing everyone in the age group was too small.
But the top doctors in Britain’s four nations decided to move forward with efforts to reduce disruption in their education.
Only one in five children aged 12 to 16 had received a single dose on October 24, according to the latest official figures.
And England’s Deputy Chief Physician Jonathan Van-Tam said today that expanding the spread to under-12s in the UK is “a long way off”.
There are signs that infections have already begun to decline, and the No10’s expert advisory panel has said that if people’s behavior remains cautious, the NHS should not be pushed to the brink of Covid this winter.
Daily infections in the UK fell below 30,000 yesterday for the first time in weeks, and across the UK, cases have fallen in nine of the last 10 days.
There is a cautious optimism that rising immunity in children is beginning to take effect.
Asked what phase of the ‘game’ Britain is with Covid, Professor Van-Tam told BBC Breakfast: ‘I would say we are a kind of half-game in extended playing time and I think the final whistle in relation to – I can ‘t predict it – but my personal opinion is that we have a few more months to drive and I think we will be in a much calmer water by spring.
“But I think until then – be careful, be very careful, this is not quite over, and vaccines, boosters are really important.”
He added: ‘I think a wide range of behaviors, including the use of face clothing, but in general the caution that people take or do not take in terms of interacting with each other – it will be a major deciding factor for, what happens between now and those kind of darkest winter months.
‘The other things that will be really important are how people react if they need a booster, if they need flu vaccine, if they are partially vaccinated, or in fact if they are unvaccinated – it will be another really important factor in terms of what happens over the next few months. ‘
The leading scientist said Britain still has ‘very high’ rates of Covid.
He said: ‘It is worrying for scientists that we are driving so hot so early in the autumn season.
“And then, from that perspective, I’m afraid it’s caution, followed by caution, and we’ll have to look at that data very carefully over the next few days and weeks.”
Regarding the numbers specifically, Professor Van-Tam said hospital admissions have increased in the last four days, while there has been a slight decrease in the number of patients being treated for Covid on wards.
Official data show that there were 1,002 UK hospital admissions on 29 October, marking the fifth consecutive day of four-digit admissions.
“What tells me is that we just have to wait and see a little longer – it can be a break before things go up, it can be the very first signs that things are starting to stabilize, but at high speed, ” he said .
“On cases, they are now starting to fall, but it primarily reflects that this big wave we’ve had in teens is now starting to slip.
‘But my concern is that deaths are rising and it shows that the infection is now starting to penetrate the older age groups.
“And that’s why the really important thing is that if you’re called to your booster, if you’re called to your flu vaccine, then go and get them – it can be really very important this winter, it’s not time to be complacent. ‘
Professor Van-Tam called on the NHS and the government to make it clearer to people when their booster shots may come, adding that it is not yet known whether people will need repeat boosters in the future.
He said “of course everyone wants to go faster” on the booster program, “but we are now picking up a pretty significant momentum”.
Experts warned yesterday that Britain’s Covid booster jab drive is still going too slow.
Official figures show that 1.6 million people in the UK received their third dose last week, a slight improvement on the sluggish ride that only reached 1.1 million every seventh day in early October.
Professor Van-Tam said decisions to make face masks mandatory in England are a matter for ministers, including places like the House of Commons.
He said: ‘I do not think I am able to judge every single type of interaction that occurs in any workroom, including the House of Commons.’
While saying he is in favor of masks being worn in some environments, he said the education ministry’s advice is that face masks should generally not be worn in schools.
He added: ‘I can see that they could be quite inhibitory to the natural expressions of learning in children involving speech and facial expressions. I think it is difficult for children in schools with face masks.
And when asked if 12- to 17-year-olds can get a new dose in the future, he said the Joint Commission on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) is still considering the decision.
He said the age group was recommended for only a single dose and another jabs would be given to 16- to 17-year-olds first if JCVI recommends extra doses.
JCVI is moving ‘slowly and gently’, he said, and there is ‘plenty of time to make second dose decisions’.