Boris Johnson is “dead set” on avoiding further lockdown as he prepares to set out his plan to get the country through coronavirus over the autumn and winter.
The Prime Minister will today set out a “toolbox” of options including working from home and compulsory face-masks to help avoid another lockdown.
Mr Johnson will announce the plan – first revealed by the Mirror in July – at Downing Street where he will tell the nation how they need to learn to live with the virus.
He will highlight how the Government regards vaccinations as the key defence against soaring Covid infections over the coming months.
The PM said: “The pandemic is far from over, but thanks to our phenomenal vaccine programme, new treatments and testing we are able to live with the virus without significant restrictions on our freedoms.
“I will set out a clear plan for the autumn and winter, when the virus has a natural advantage, to protect the gains we have made.”
Government insiders stressed that Mr Johnson’s plans were aimed at preventing another lockdown.
One said: “This is the new normal. We need to learn to live with Covid.
“The vaccines are a wall of defence. The autumn and the winter do offer some uncertainty, but the Prime Minister is dead set against another lockdown.”
Mr Johnson is expected to confirm that plans for vaccine passports for nightclubs and other large crowd venues have been shelved.
The travel traffic lights system is also expected to be scrapped and PCR tests will no longer be required for fully vaccinated travellers.
There will also be a major advertising campaign in a bid to do everything possible to avoid a winter shutdown across England.
But while many powers to shut down venues under the Coronavirus Act will be rescinded, the core power to impose a lockdown will remain in place.
Covid infection rates are higher than at this stage last year – but the PM is confident that jabs will keep hospitalisation and death rates down as the country goes into winter.
In England, the number of deaths and hospitalisations has remained relatively stable over the last month, thanks to the vaccines roll-out scheme.
The Government will today set out its the plans for booster vaccinations, which will be given to the most vulnerable people first.
Face masks are currently not forced by law in any indoor spaces though they are “expected and recommended” in crowded places like public transport, and they are a condition of carriage on London Tubes and buses and the Manchester tram.
While the Prime Minister will probably stop short of bringing back compulsory masks, he could threaten for them to make a return if cases surge later in the winter.
The Government is aware that masks have helped in stopping airborne transmission of the virus and some businesses – including big supermarkets – still request shoppers wear them.
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Yet most Tory MPs are not bothering to follow the existing guidance on wearing a mask in the Commons chamber.
The wearing of masks has become a symbolic dividing line between lockdown sceptics and those who are more cautious about spreading the disease.
Yet scientists are clear that face-masks play an important role in limiting infections and protecting other people.
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The PM has vowed to use a mass vaccine booster programme as “our first line of defence” over the autumn and winter months.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has already given advice to No 10 with the Prime Minister expected to announce today they have given boosters the green light.
The third doses are set to be rolled out to all over-50s and vulnerable people, starting with the oldest, most vulnerable and NHS workers.
Scientists believe that the ongoing vaccine roll-out is the single best way to tackle rising infections.
All children aged 12 and over will now be offered one dose of the Pfizer vaccine to help prevent schools chaos over winter.
Health chiefs acknowledge concerns that no jab is entirely without risk, but are clear that jabbing kids will help avoid further disruption to their schooling, as well as keeping them safe.
Working from home
The Government is not currently recommending that people who can work from home, do work from home, and most employers have welcomed back staff at least some of the time.
For now, ministers are leaving it up to employers to make the decision after consulting workers.
While this is unlikely to change today, instructing people to work from home once again could be threatened as a future move if case rates start to creep up.
The move is part of the package that helped drive down cases previously as it takes people off public transport and prevents them from mixing with colleagues.
Despite the removal of Covid restrictions in England, businesses still have a legal duty to manage risks to those affected by their business and carry out health-and-safety risk assessments.
One big rule not being axed is that if you test positive for Covid, you must still isolate for 10 days to protect other people from the virus.
You can still be fined if you skip isolation. However, you do not need to isolate if you come into contact with a Covid sufferer – as long as you’re double jabbed.
Boris Johnson is expected to announce an advertising campaign to highlight the things ordinary Brits can do to stop the spread of the virus and get ready for a difficult winter.
It could emphasise guidance like keeping windows open and wearing masks in crowded indoor spaces. Then, of course, there are the basic things like washing hands more regularly and getting regular lateral flow tests free from your local pharmacy or gov.uk.
Businesses are expected to be reminded to ensure good ventilation and provide hand sanitiser.
While no social distancing rules are expected to be reintroduced at this stage, the public could be advised to consider whether it is wise to hug vulnerable relatives or invite large numbers of people round to their homes.
Previous campaigns have had a varied impact – with millions following the plea to “stay home, protect the NHS, save lives” at the start of the pandemic but the subsequent “stay alert” slogan causing confusion.
Nightclubs and other big crowded venues in England were going to be forced to ask all punters for a “vaccine passport” from the end of this month.
But Boris Johnson abruptly ditched that plan on Sunday after a furious backlash from his own MPs.
So sudden was the U-turn that even his own Health Secretary was unaware of the change. But venues can still ask punters for a vaccine passport or proof of a test if they want, it’s just not mandatory.
And vaccine passports are still part of the toolbox for later in winter – they could be brought back if cases surge.
Ministers have warned that the scheme could be discriminatory as some people are unable for health reasons to have a jab.
Some scientists have argued that a combination of vaccines and negative tests would be more effective as the jab doesn’t entirely prevent passing on the virus.
A full lockdown this winter is a last resort – and Boris Johnson would fiercely resist pressure to bring one in – but No 10 finally appears to have learned the lesson of the last 18 months and not entirely ruled one out.
No 10 admitted: “The winter months will bring renewed challenges.
“Covid will circulate alongside flu and other respiratory viruses and the threat of a new variant remains.
“It is difficult to predict with certainty how these will interact and what pressure they may place on the NHS.”
While the majority of scientists agree that lockdowns, while a blunt instrument, do help prevent cases spiralling out of control, they have critics because of the harm they can do to education, businesses and mental health.
But ministers do now seem to accept that another one could be necessary as a contingency plan if the NHS is about to be overwhelmed.
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