UK health secretary warns ‘pandemic is not over’

Sajid Javid says cases could hit 100,000 per day by winter, but government has signed deals for 2 antiviral drugs to treat COVID-19

Karim El-Bar   | 20.10.2021
UK health secretary warns ‘pandemic is not over’


British Health Secretary Sajid Javid said at a press briefing on Wednesday that the “pandemic is not over” and that COVID-19 cases could hit 100,000 per day by winter.

It was the first COVID-19 briefing in over a month, reflecting growing worries at the pace at which cases are increasing in the country.

“We have always known that the winter months would pose the greatest threat to our road to recovery, as the darker skies and colder weather provide perfect conditions not just for Covid-19 to thrive, but for other seasonal viruses too. Ahead of winter, just as we expected, we are starting to see this impact,” Javid said.

“Cases are rising, and they could go yet as high as 100,000 a day. We’re also seeing greater pressure on the NHS across the UK, approaching 1,000 hospitalizations per day,” he said.

“This pandemic is not over,” Javid said.

The UK currently has one of the highest levels of COVID-19 cases in the world.

In a sign of how serious the situation in the UK has become, Morocco announced today it was banning all flights from the UK effective midnight Wednesday.

The UK’s infection rate is 66 times that of Morocco over the past seven days.

Morocco’s ban also applies to Germany and the Netherlands.

The UK recorded on Wednesday case numbers close to 50,000 for the second time this week, with yesterday’s daily infection numbers being the highest since mid-July.

Call for people to get booster jabs

All this has led to health officials in the country to call on the government to implement its Plan B, which includes face masks and working from home.

Javid resisted these calls in his press briefing, however.

Instead, he called on over-50s to get the booster vaccination shots, saying: “All of these precious moments 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 because of our vaccination program and because so many of you came forward when it was your time.

“If we want to secure these freedoms for the long-term, the best thing that we can do is come forward once again when that moment comes.”

He continued by outlining other ways the British public could help limit the rise in cases: “After the decisive steps 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.

“Although vaccinations are our primary form of defense, there are many more things we can all do to 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 enclosed spaces, especially if you’re coming into contact with people you don’t normally meet. And like taking rapid tests as part of your weekly routine,” Javid said.

The British health secretary also touched on the new Delta variant AY.4.2, which is thought to be slightly more transmissible.

“That new variant is now spreading, and while there’s no reason to believe at this time that AY.4.2 poses a greater threat, the next variant or the one after that might do,” he said.

Nevertheless, Javid said that the UK needed “to be ready for what’s around the corner,” adding that the UK Health Security Agency will continue to assess whether AY.4.2 is likely to become dominant across Britain.

Antiviral drugs

Javid also announced that the UK secured deals for two antiviral drugs to treat COVID-19 this winter, pending regulatory approval.

Britain will buy 730,000 courses of treatments by Pfizer and Merck, with the drugs called PF-07321332 and molnupiravir respectively.

They will be given to patients before they get seriously ill, helping reduce the chances of their condition deteriorating to the point that they need to go to the hospital.

Both drugs are yet to be approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.

Javid said: “Since the beginning of this pandemic, we have been building an armory of life-saving measures to tackle the virus and protect the country – including our phenomenal vaccination programmed and therapeutics.

“I am delighted to confirm we may soon have a new defense in our arsenal with two new antiviral drugs that we have secured. Our work is far from done though – and we’ll continue our tireless work to secure more innovative treatments so we can protect as many people as possible from the virus, its variants and future diseases.”

British government data published on Wednesday showed that there were a further 49,139 cases recorded across the UK over the past 24 hours, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to over 8.5 million. There were also a further 179 deaths, bringing the total to 139,031.

Up to and including 19 October 2021, over 49.5 million first doses of vaccine have been administered, or 86.1% of the population aged 12 or over, and over 45.4 million second doses of vaccine, or 79%.

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