SAJID JAVID: ‘I’m acutely aware of the cost of curbs – we must try to live with Covid’
We made major breakthroughs in 2021, but it was also a year where we faced new threats, especially the Omicron variant which continues to spread rapidly across the world.
Despite this new adversary, the steps we took, especially the expansion of this country’s booster programme, meant we saw in the New Year in a far stronger position than we were at the end of 2020.
Even so, this is still a worrying time: according to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics, last week one in 25 people in England would have tested positive for Covid-19, and hospitalisations are also steadily rising.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid, pictured, said today that the number of patients in intensive care units are stable and not currently following the trajectory of this time last year with the Alpha wave
Recent data from the UK Health and Security Agency shows that unvaccinated people are between three and eight times more likely to be hospitalised with Covid-19
However, numbers in intensive care units are stable and not currently following the trajectory we saw this time last year during the Alpha wave. As a result, we decided not to put further measures in place ahead of this New Year and we have welcomed in 2022 with some of the least restrictive measures in Europe.
Curbs on our freedom must be an absolute last resort and the British people rightly expect us to do everything in our power to avert them. Since I came into this role six months ago, I’ve also been acutely conscious of the enormous health, social and economic costs of lockdowns. So I’ve been determined that we must give ourselves the best chance of living alongside the virus and avoiding strict measures in the future.
To help us achieve this, we’ve built up three lines of defence which, when taken together, are some of the deepest and the strongest in the world.
First, of course, is the vaccination programme, and we’ve now met our highly ambitious target that we would offer every eligible adult in England the opportunity to get a booster by the end of 2021.
We’ve now met our highly ambitious target that we would offer every eligible adult in England the opportunity to get a booster by the end of 2021
Recent data from the UK Health and Security Agency shows that unvaccinated people are between three and eight times more likely to be hospitalised with Covid-19, depending on their age, and so every jab counts and can help keep someone out of hospital.
Second, we’ve built up a huge testing infrastructure. Over Christmas, we saw how regular tests can give us the confidence to see loved ones and live our lives. Although it has been a time of massive global demand, we almost tripled distribution of lateral flow tests in December, to 300million, and we’re also tripling the supply for January and February compared to our pre-Omicron plans.
Our third line of defence is treatments, and we have the most advanced antivirals programme in Europe. Yesterday, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency approved Paxlovid, a cutting edge antiviral treatment. We’ve secured almost three million courses, and Paxlovid will join an array of Covid-19 treatments that we’re making available.
These three lines of defence will keep huge numbers of people out of hospital. However, even though we’ve seen some encouraging research about the severity of Omicron, its increased transmissibility means it can still lead to significant numbers of hospitalisations.
Due to the time lag between infections and hospitalisations, it’s inevitable that we will still see a big increase in people needing care from the NHS over the next month. This is likely to test the limits of finite NHS capacity even more than a typical winter.
I’ve been working closely with the NHS, to make sure it is ready and resilient for what lies ahead. We’ve recruited almost 20,000 more clinical staff since September 2020 and we’re boosting bed capacity too, including through new Nightingale surge hubs within hospital grounds.
As we begin 2022, we also enter our third year in a global pandemic – a pandemic that is still far from over. While we face it in a stronger position because of all the incredible work that’s been done this past year, we all have a part to play in making sure we get off to the best possible start: by keeping each other safe, testing ourselves regularly, and if we’re eligible, by getting the jab.
‘We must try to live with Covid’: Health Secretary Sajid Javid insist restrictions must only be used as a last resort and vows to do everything in his power to avoid a lockdown in 2022 – after UK records a pandemic high of 189,846 cases
Writing in the Daily Mail, the Health Secretary says any fresh curbs on freedoms must be ‘an absolute last resort’, adding that the country is in ‘a far stronger position’ at the start of 2022 than it was 12 months ago.
Coronavirus cases are continuing to rise due to the fast-spreading Omicron variant. But official figures showed yesterday that in parts of Britain up to four in ten hospital patients with Covid-19 were actually there to receive treatment for something else. The figure nationally is one in three.
Mr Javid says the numbers in intensive care units remain stable, meaning ‘we have welcomed in 2022 with some of the least restrictive measures in Europe’. Mr Javid went on: ‘Curbs on our freedom must be an absolute last resort and the British people rightly expect us to do everything in our power to avert them.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid, pictured, said Britons will have to get used to living with Covid-19
‘Since I came into this role six months ago, I’ve also been acutely conscious of the enormous health, social and economic costs of lockdowns.
‘So I’ve been determined that we must give ourselves the best chance of living alongside the virus and avoiding strict measures in the future.’
In other developments:
- A further 189,846 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases were reported in the UK yesterday – another record for daily reported cases. There were also 203 more deaths.
- Office for National Statistics data showed an estimated 2.3million people in the UK had Covid-19 in the week ending December 23, the highest on record.
- Britain’s coronavirus heroes are recognised in the New Year Honours today, including knighthoods for Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance.
- More than a dozen hospitals across the country temporarily banned visits in an effort to protect patients and staff amid rising Covid infections.
- The number of Covid patients in mechanical ventilation beds in the UK has decreased over the past month, from 931 on November 30 to 868 on December 29.
- Pressure grew for England’s isolation period to be cut from seven to five days after Greece became the latest country to make the move.
- South Africa lifted its night-time curfew for the first time in 21 months after the Omicron wave peaked without overwhelming hospitals.
- Britain became one of the first countries in the world to approve a second pill that can treat Covid at home – this time a Pfizer antiviral.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid, pictured left, said he has not ruled out a further lockdown but said any move would be a ‘last resort’
He warned that due to a lag between infections and hospitalisations, ‘we will still see a big increase in people needing care from the NHS over the next month’
Mr Javid said the government had introduced among the least stringent Covid-19 restrictions in Europe, pictured shoppers on Regent Street in London on Christmas Eve
Britain was also one of the first places to reopen, pictured people in Soho on April 16
Mr Javid has not ruled out another lockdown and government sources said they were still awaiting critical data on the impact of Christmas on the spread of Covid.
The Health Secretary warned: ‘Due to the time lag between infections and hospitalisations, it’s inevitable that we will still see a big increase in people needing care from the NHS over the next month. This will likely test the limits of finite NHS capacity even more than a typical winter.’
However, NHS England figures show the number of patients in hospital ‘with Covid’ is growing almost twice as quickly as the number who are there ‘because of’ the disease.
There were 8,321 patients with coronavirus in NHS hospitals in England on December 28 – but only 5,578 of them were being treated primarily for the disease. It means one in three Covid patients were actually in hospital to receive treatment for another condition, such as a broken leg.
This is up from one in four on December 12. In the Midlands, 40 per cent of hospital Covid patients are now there with the virus, rather than because of it.
The number of patients being treated primarily for Covid in hospitals in England rose by 26 per cent from 4,432 on December 21 to 5,578 a week later.
But the number of patients with Covid but primarily being treated for something else leapt 51 per cent in the same period, from 1,813 to 2,743.
Separate figures show the proportion of adult acute and general hospital beds occupied by patients with any condition has decreased over the past week from 93 per cent to 87 per cent, easing pressure on the NHS.
Carl Heneghan, professor of evidence-based medicine at Oxford University, said: ‘I am worried these figures for people in hospital with Covid – rather than because of it – could bounce us into a lockdown or further restrictions in January.
‘The high numbers create anxiety in government and the public based on erroneous conclusions.
‘Accurate statistics on true Covid cases hospitalised are required to back up the reassuring data on intensive care admission, which has remained stable, and verify that this variant is not making a large proportion of people severely ill.’
NHS England has pointed out that Covid-positive admissions being treated primarily for something else have to be separated from non-Covid patients, and that the virus can be a ‘significant’ secondary condition. It added: ‘The majority of inpatients with Covid-19 are admitted as a result of the infection.’