Home » UK Covid Live: Sajid Javid Makes Statement To MPs On Omicron Variant And Booster Vaccines

UK Covid Live: Sajid Javid Makes Statement To MPs On Omicron Variant And Booster Vaccines

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16:14

Sir Desmond Swayne (Con) asks what evidence there is that tougher mask wearing policies in Scotland have made a difference. He suggests belief in the effectiveness of masks is “mumbo jumbo”.

Javid says research has shown that wearing masks has benefits.

16:12

Sir Graham Brady, chair of the Conservative backbencher 1922 Committee, says he welcomes the news that the debate and vote will be tomorrow. But why not have the vote before the measures come into force.

And he asks what assessment Javid has made of reports from South Africa suggesting Omicron produces a milder version of the illness.

Javid, who did not say the vote would be tomorrow, says Jacob Rees-Mogg will address this later.

On Omicron’s severity, Javid says South Africa has a younger population.

16:10

Theresa Villiers (Con) says, if the situation deteriorates, can the government do everything possible not shut down the hospitality sector. She says it is just getting back on its feet.

Javid says he agrees absolutely.

16:06

Matthew Hancock, the former health secretary, asks if a new vaccine will be deployed against Omicron.

Javid pays tribute to the preparatory work Hancock did on this when he was in post, and he says if it is necessary to procure vaccines, the government will do that.

16:04

Mark Harper, chair of the Tory lockdown sceptic Covid Recovery Group, asks how close contacts of someone testing positive with Omicron will find out about that.

Javid says the UK Health Security Agency is working out the best way to establish if a case is Omicron. He says the S-gene dropout might be used (see 10.59am), but other methods might be used.

Updated

15:58

The SNP’s Richard Thomson asks why the Scottish government’s call for an four-natons Cobra meeting seems to have been dismissed by No 10 out of hand.

Javid says the four nations of the UK have been working together on coronavirus anyway.

15:56

Rosena Allin-Khan, a shadow health minister, responded for Labour. Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, is isolating after testing positive last week. She was largely critical of the government, saying that masks should never have been made voluntary on public transport in the first place, that sick pay is still inadequate, and that there should be compulsory pre-departure Covid tests for people flying into the UK. She also criticised Boris Johnson for his record on mask wearing, saying he had put people at risk in a hospital.

Javid told her, in response, that her partisan reply had misjudged the mood of the house. He joked that she might have been auditioning for the reshuffle.

Updated

15:51

Javid implies new restrictions will be abandoned if Omicron turns out to be no more dangerous than Delta

Javid says scientists are working quickly to discover how dangerous Omicron is. He goes on:

If it emerges that this variant is no more dangerous than the Delta variant, then we won’t keep [these] measures in place for a day longer than necessary.

That implies that, if the scientists decide Omicron poses no greater threat than Delta, compulsory mask wearing in shops and on public transport in England, and the new PCR tests for UK arrivals, could be abandoned within weeks.

This line seems to have been included more as a sop to the Tory lockdown-sceptic Covid Recovery Group than because there is a serious expectation that Omicron will turn out to be just like Delta.

Updated

15:44

Javid turns to the online meeting of G7 health ministers he convened today. He says they all praised South Africa for its leadership, and for the openness it has shown about Omicron.

15:43

Javid accepts recommendations on expanding booster programme

Javid says he asked the JCBI to urgently review if it could reduce the gap between second doses and boosters.

He confirms the changes proposed by the JCVI at its own briefing earlier. (See 3.20pm and below) And he says he has accepted the recommendations in full.

He says this will be a “huge step up” for the vaccination programme. But he is confident the NHS is up to the task, he says.

More information about how this will be put into action will be announced in coming days, he says.

  • JCVI is advising all adults over the age of 18 should get a booster.
  • The booster programme should be rolled out by age and risk group. Boosters should be given no sooner than three months after the second dose.
  • Severely immunocompromised people should get another booster, in addition to the one they have already had.
  • Booster vaccines should be mRNA ones, either Moderna or Pfizer.
  • Children aged 12 to 15 should now be offered a second dose of vaccine.

Updated

15:39

Javid tells MPs they will get vote on new Covid restrictions announced at weekend

In the Commons Sajid Javid, the health secretary, is making a statement about Covid.

He starts by confirming the measures announced over the weekend.

And he says there will be a vote on these measures in the Commons. Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the Commons, will give details later, he says.

15:37

MPs to debate Boris Johnson’s honesty tomorrow after SNP tables censure motion against him

Tomorrow, time in the Commons has been set aside for a debate on a motion chosen by the SNP. The party has announced that it is tabling a censure motion against Boris Johnson. The motion says:

That, this house censures the prime minister, the right honourable member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, for frequently violating the sixth principle of public life, for seeking to undermine the recommendations of the standards committee on Owen Paterson, for regularly ignoring independent advice on matters such as international treaties and breaches of the ministerial code by his ministers, for putting forward proposals to diminish the powers of the Electoral Commission, for ignoring independent advice concerning the granting of peerages to Conservative party donors and nominations to public bodies such as Ofcom; and further calls for his ministerial salary to be reduced by £41,567 per year.

The sixth principle of public life, as drawn up by the Nolan committee, is honesty. “Holders of public office should be truthful,” the Nolan principles say.

Updated

15:30

Two more Omicron cases found in England, UKHSA says

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has identified two further cases of Covid-19 with mutations consistent with B.1.1.529 in England, officials have announced.

The two cases are in addition to the previous three confirmed cases of the Sars-CoV-2 variant known as B.1.1.529 – aka the Omicron variant – on 27 and 28 November. The total number of confirmed cases in England is now five.

The individuals that have tested positive are not connected to each other and are not linked to the previously confirmed cases. Both have links to travel to southern Africa. One case is located in Camden, London and one case is located in Wandsworth, London.

Both individuals and their households had been told to self-isolate, the UKHSA said. It was carrying out targeted testing at locations where the positive cases were likely to be infectious.

Updated

15:28

Q: If you are reducing the gap between second doses and booster doses from five months to three months, doesn’t that imply you are panicking?

Van-Tam says he is asking people not to panic. But he is also saying they should not ignore the weather forecast either.

Lim says, in general, the longer the gap between a first and second dose, the better. So usually it is good to extend the duration between vaccine doses.

But he also says they do not want to wait so long that they cannot precede the next wave.

He says there is data from a study showing that, after three months, you still get very strong booster response. That is why the JCVI feels it is reasonable to use that timetable.

Updated

15:25

They are now taking questions.

Q: Will you be able to deliver these boosters before Christmas?

Van-Tam says the NHS will set out in the next few days how this will be operationalised. It will be very complicated, he says.

He says the NHS understands the real urgency of this, and is up for the task.

He says they do not want younger people getting ahead of older people, who are at higher risk.