Mr Johnson’s antipathy for lockdowns comes in the face of a persistent delta epidemic. As of Sunday, another 29,173 positive cases were reported, although this is below the typical daily rate of over 35,000; and there were 56 deaths, again less than the usual 150 and more.
On September 7, the most recent day for which there is data, 1,073 people were admitted to hospital with COVID-19, the highest daily total since the end of the second wave of the pandemic in late February.
There were 8,098 hospital patients with COVID-19 on September 8, including 1,060 in mechanical ventilation beds also the highest since the second wave.
The worry is that things will only get worse from here, and the government is obviously keen to manage expectations and increase public tolerance for overcrowded hospitals by the end of the year.
The winter months will bring new challenges. COVID will circulate alongside influenza and other respiratory viruses and the threat of a new variant remains, according to Sunday’s statement from Mr Johnsons’ office.
It is difficult to predict with certainty how these will interact and what pressure they might put on the NHS [National Health Service].
No vaccination passport
Mr Johnson is banking on Britain’s very advanced vaccination program to prevent the hospital system from being overwhelmed.
As of September 11, 89% of UK adults had received a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 81% had received two doses. The deployment is expected to extend to younger adolescents soon; and booster shots will likely be given to older cohorts, most of whom were vaccinated more than six months ago.
Thanks to the efforts of the public, the NHS and our phenomenal vaccination program… life has returned to a sense of normalcy, Mr Johnson said.
He is expected to announce this week a toolbox of measures that the government will use instead of blockages.
The toolkit will not include vaccine passports for entry to nightclubs and other crowded places, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said on Sunday.
Although we have to keep it as a potential option, I am happy to say that we are not going to move forward with the vaccine passport plans, he told the BBC.
Media have suggested that travel restrictions will be eased significantly over the coming month, with any remaining rules likely to apply only to the unvaccinated and / or a shortened red list of hard-hit countries.
Mr Javid said the remaining anti-COVID toolkit will include booster shots, increased testing and better treatments.
Everyone over 50 is expected to be put on a booster program by the end of the year, potentially in tandem with the annual flu shot.
The NHS also continues to distribute free lateral flow test kits over pharmacy counters to anyone who needs them, which helps identify positive cases.
A legal power that the government will retain for the winter is the obligation for individuals to self-isolate if they are positive. Some reports suggest that the power to enforce mask wear and work from home may also be retained.
Mr Johnson’s reliance on vaccine protection is a gamble. Studies suggest that the effectiveness of some vaccines in preventing infection decreases by more than half after six months.
There is still a protective effect against severe symptoms and death, but the hospital system could still be strained.
But the prime minister is under pressure from the libertarian wing of his Conservative Party, and his own natural political instincts, to avoid yet another lockdown and any measures that undermine freedom such as vaccine passports.
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