SAGE member Prof Neil Ferguson said a Plan B may ‘need to be implemented’ with new restrictions – though he added it’s doubtful the UK will face another full lockdown
One of the key architects of Britain’s first lockdowns has warned we may need restrictions brought back in.
Prof Neil Ferguson, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) from Imperial College London, said Covid hospitalisations are doubling every five weeks as immunity wanes.
Just 3.7 million of the 8.5 million at-risk people who had their second jab at least six months ago have had their third dose, and the gap is growing.
The UK has some of the highest Covid rates in Western Europe and the modeller dubbed “Professor Lockdown” put this down to waning immunity and fewer control measures here.
His intervention comes as we now have rates of Covid-19 as high as the January peak when the NHS was almost overwhelmed.
Prof Ferguson said: “I don’t think we’re looking at another lockdown… the worst case here are demands on the NHS… it’s very unlikely we’ll see anything like the levels of deaths we saw last year, for instance.
“Coming into the winter, there may be a Plan B which needs to be implemented, which involves some rolling back of measures, but I doubt that we’ll ever get close to lockdown we were in January of this year.”
He added: “I don’t think it’s a reason to panic right now but I would certainly like to see vaccination booster doses accelerated, vaccination for teenagers accelerated.”
Britain has some of the fewest Covid restrictions on daily life than almost any developed country.
Plan B ths winter could see the reintroduction of measures such as mask wearing, social distancing, international travel restrictions and advice to work from home.
Vaccine passports could be enforced in England after plans to use them domestically were shelved. Scotland has already started implementing vaccine passports this week.
Sir David King, who was the Government’s chief scientific adviser from 2000 to 2007, has said the pace of the Covid booster rollout was going “extremely slowly”.
The Covid-19 Actuaries Response Group (ARG) estimates that 22 million people will be ready for their third dose by mid- December but at current rates the programme to vaccinate those most at risk will not be completed until the end of January, the Telegraph reported.
At the peak of England’s Covid vaccine rollout more than 500,000 doses were being administered a day, but just 99,000 booster shots were reported in England yesterday, and the current daily average for other jabs has fallen to around 50,000.
A publicity blitz is planned for later this week, with radio and TV adverts urging people to go for both their booster and flu vaccines to avoid overwhelming hospitals this winter.
Prof Ferguson told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: “We were very successful in getting vaccination rolled out early and we know that gradually immunity wanes over time after you’ve had that second dose, so how early we were means we are a bit more vulnerable.
“Second, we relied more on the AstraZeneca vaccine and, while that protects very well against very severe outcomes of Covid, it protects slightly less well than Pfizer against infection and transmission, particularly in the face of the Delta variant.
“And finally, we just sit behind a few other countries, not dramatically, but we’re no longer in the top rank of European countries in terms of overall vaccination coverage, particularly vaccinating teenagers. Overall coverage rates here are considerably lower, for instance, than in Spain, Portugal and Denmark.”
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People over 50 can get boosters six months after their second dose but more than a third of eligible over-80s are yet to have their top-up jab.
NHS England says that 3.7 million of the 6.4 million people deemed eligible have been vaccinated.
Hospitalisations have hit 900, with a 1,000 threshold being earmarked previously as when measures could be reintroduced.
Downing Street this week warned a “challenging winter” is approaching but the PM’s spokesperson said there is no plan for plan B just yet.