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Health

UK’s Johnson Hopes to Avoid Lockdown in Winter Virus Roadmap

September 13, 2021

LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to announce how his government plans to control the coronavirus during the fall and winter — hoping vaccinations, rather than restrictions, will keep COVID-19 in check.

At a news conference on Tuesday, Johnson is expected to say that mask-wearing, work-from-home advice and social distancing rules that were lifted in July could return if cases climb.

But his Conservative government is resisting tougher measures, unexpectedly shelving a plan to introduce vaccine passports for nightclubs and other crowded venues.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said Sunday that the passes, which have been introduced in many European countries and were due to start in England at the end of September, were a "huge intrusion into people's lives." He said the government would keep the plan "in reserve" but would not proceed with it right now.

Some experts have argued for vaccine passports as a way to encourage young people to get vaccinated, though others say compelling vaccination, rather than encouraging it, could increase hesitancy. The measure was opposed as a burdensome imposition by many in the nightlife industry, and met political resistance on civil liberties grounds from some Conservative lawmakers and the opposition Liberal Democrats.

The government's decision applies in England. Scotland, which sets its own health policy, plans to introduce vaccine passports for crowded venues next month.

Britain is currently inoculating people 16 and up, and almost 90% of those eligible have had at least one dose of a vaccine. The government is also due to announce this week whether vaccinations will be extended to youths aged 12 to 15. 

So far only children in that age group who have underlying health conditions, or live with vulnerable adults, have been offered the shots. The government's vaccine advisory committee said last week that the purely medical benefits of vaccination for children were marginal, but that there might be other social or public health reasons to vaccinate them.

Johnson is also likely to announce Tuesday that the government will relinquish some of the emergency powers Parliament gave it after the pandemic began last year, including the authority to shut down businesses and schools, restrict gatherings and detain infectious people.

The announcement of a new virus road map comes a year after Johnson resisted scientific advice to put the country into lockdown — only to perform a U-turn within weeks as coronavirus cases soared. 

Virus cases now are 10 times the rate of a year ago, but vaccines are protecting many Britons from serious illness. Still, the U.K. is recording more than 100 coronavirus deaths a day, and about 8,000 people are hospitalized with COVID-19. That is less than a quarter of the wintertime peak, but the number is climbing.

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