The Health Minister Sajid Javid held a Downing Street briefing today.
Good afternoon and welcome to Downing Street for today’s coronavirus briefing.
I’m joined by Dr Jenny Harries, Chief Executive of the UK Health Security Agency and by Professor Steve Powis, Medical Director of NHS England.
We’ve always known that the winter months would pose the greatest threat to our road to recovery.
The darker skies, the colder weather provide perfect conditions not just for COVID-19 to thrive but for other seasonal viruses too, like flu and norovirus.
And ahead of winter, just as we expected, we’re starting to see this impact.
Cases are rising, and yesterday we reported 43,738 new cases across the UK, up 16% from the previous week and they could yet go as high as 100,000 a day.
We’re also seeing greater pressure on the NHS. Across the UK, we’re now approaching 1,000 hospitalisations per day.
The NHS is performing with distinction, and I’d like to thank everyone who’s working so hard to keep us safe.
And we’ll do what it takes to make sure that this pressure doesn’t become unsustainable and that we don’t allow the NHS to become overwhelmed.
Deaths remain mercifully low, but they are still sadly over 100 a day. This pandemic is not over.
Thanks to the vaccination programme, yes, the link between cases and hospitalisations and deaths has significantly weakened, but it’s not broken.
So we must all remember that this virus will be with us for the long term, and that it remains a threat.
A threat to our loved ones and a threat to the progress that we’ve made in getting our nation closer to normal life.
We’re looking closely at the data, and we won’t be implementing our Plan B of contingency measures at this point.
But we’ll be staying vigilant preparing for all eventualities while strengthening our vital defences that can help us fight back against this virus.
And today, as we approach this critical time for our nation’s recovery I wanted to bring you up to date with some of the work we’re doing to strengthen these defence as we learn to live with the virus.
One line of defence is treatments, and I have some positive news to share today.
We should all be proud that the UK has been at the forefront of some of the most cutting edge treatments.
COVID-19 treatments have already had an amazing impact and they’re especially important for people who can’t take a vaccine for medical reasons or if they are immunocompromised.
It was British scientists who led the clinical trial that discovered dexamethasone that can be an effective treatment for COVID-19 and it’s already estimated to have saved some one million lives across the world.
And some of the most vulnerable NHS patients in hospital are already benefitting from Ronapreve, a treatment of monoclonal antibodies, that was specifically designed to treat COVID-19.
We’re also seeing some promising developments around antivirals too.
Antivirals work by targeting a virus at an early stage, and disrupting the way the virus develops and multiplies.
I’m pleased to announce that we have signed two landmark deals, securing hundreds of thousands of doses of two new antivirals from Pfizer and from Merck Sharp Dohme. These antivirals have the potential to speed up recovery time and to stop infections from progressing.
If these treatments get MHRA approval then we can provide some of the most vulnerable patients with vital protection this winter.
And I want to deploy them as quickly as possible.
I’d like to thank everyone that’s been involved in this, especially the Antivirals Taskforce under the leadership of Eddie Gray, for everything that they’ve done to make this happen.
And we’ll keep working to secure even more of these incredible treatments, so that we can continue to protect as many people as possible.
This is great news, but we cannot be complacent, when COVID-19 remains such a potent threat.
Ever since our phenomenal vaccine rollout began last winter, we’ve been in a race.
A race between the vaccine and the virus and although we’re ahead in that race, 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.
So we’re going to do everything we can to maintain our lead by strengthening our vaccination programme as our primary line of defence.
First, we’ll redouble our efforts to encourage anyone who’s eligible to take up the initial offer of a jab.
There’s almost 5 million people over the age of 16 that remain unvaccinated in the UK. It might be someone you know, a friend, a family member, a colleague.
And if you do, tell them that it’s never too late to come forward so if you yet haven’t had your jab, please take this huge step to protect yourself and your loved ones.
Second, we’ve extended the offer of a vaccine to more and more people, including young people aged between 12 and 15 years.
And we’ll be making it easier for them to get protected by opening up our National Booking Service so they can get their jab at a vaccination centre across the country, as well as at school.
Third, we’ve also started rolling out our booster programme, which is vital to keeping us safe over the coming months.
Because although our vaccines offer powerful protection we now know that the protection that you get from a COVID-19 vaccine reduces materially over time especially in older people who are at the greatest risk.
And without delivering a top-up of protection through a booster dose, we will see a real-world impact.
As well as this, COVID-19 mutates like any virus and we’re identifying new variants all the time.
This includes a new version of the Delta variant which is currently known as AY4.2 and that new variant is now spreading.
And while there’s no reason to believe at this point that AY4.2 poses a greater threat the next variant, or the one after that, might do.
So we need to be ready for what lies around the corner.
This means our ongoing programme of booster jabs is so important and this winter we’re prioritising those most in need.
Today, we’ve reached the milestone of 4 million top-up jabs in England, but we need more people to get protected.
We’ve got the jabs, we just need the arms to put them in.
If you’re over 50 or in another priority group and had your second jab over 6 months ago you’re eligible for a booster and the NHS will send you an invite.
If you haven’t been invited within a week of reaching that six month milestone then please, get onto the National Booking Service and book online or phone 119.
Not just to save lives but to keep your freedoms too.
Because all of these precious moments that we’ve been able to restore over the past few months, the loved ones we’ve been able to see, and the collective experiences we’ve been able to share – they’ve been possible thanks to our vaccination programme and because of so many of you that came forward when your time came.
And if we want to secure these freedoms for the long-term then the best thing we can all do is to come forward once again when that moment comes.
After the decisive steps that we’ve taken this year, none of us want to go backwards now.
So we must all play our part in this national mission and think about what we can do to make a difference.
That means getting the jab when the time comes whether it’s for COVID-19 or flu.
But although vaccinations are our primary form of defence, there are many more things that we can all do to help contain the spread of this virus.
Like meeting outdoors where it’s possible, and if you can only meet indoors, letting in fresh air.
Like wearing a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces, especially if you’re coming into contact with people that you don’t normally meet and like making and taking rapid tests and making them part of your weekly routine.
A quarter of the positive cases that we are now identifying are those from lateral flow tests that people are taking without symptoms, but they’re taking them as a precaution, especially if they are about to go and meet a loved one, perhaps a grandparent or another vulnerable person.
With winter soon upon us, these little steps make a big difference.
And they’re more important now than they have ever been.
If we all play our part, then we can give ourselves the best possible chance in this race, to get through this winter, and enjoy Christmas with our loved ones.