PM insists he's sticking with Covid Plan A - despite warnings that would be 'wilfully negligent'

There have been complaints in Birmingham about difficulties booking a booster jab amid the slow speed of the booster rollout and rising Covid cases in the UK, ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan reports

The government is sticking with its winter Covid plan, Boris Johnson has insisted, despite warnings from leading doctors that it would be "willfully negligent" to not implement Plan B immediately.

The prime minister acknowledged there is a "high" number of coronavirus infections in the UK, but said the numbers were "within the parameters" forecast by his scientific advisers.

Coronavirus cases could soon rise to 100,000 a day, the health secretary admitted on Wednesday evening, but Mr Johnson told broadcasters on Thursday that "we are sticking with our plan".

"We are continuing with the plan we set out in July. We are watching the numbers very carefully every day," he said in a pooled clip for broadcasters.

The best people can defend themselves against coronavirus, the PM said, is to "fortify" their protection with a vaccine, either a first dose for younger people or a booster jab for the elderly and vulnerable.

"We are in a much better position going into the autumn, winter now than we were 12 months ago, incomparably better, because of the huge level of protection we have got from the vaccines."

Earlier this week the UK recorded its highest daily Covid death toll in seven months - scientists want the government to respond by implementing Plan B immediately.

Plan B could include legally mandating face coverings in some settings, introducing mandatory vaccine-only Covid-status certification and asking people to work from home.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the question of whether the government should implement Plan A or Plan B is the "wrong focus". "The question we need to ask is why is Plan A failing? It's failing because the government has allowed that wall of the vaccine to crumble," he told ITV News.

"If we don't address the question, why has Plan A failed, then we're not going anywhere with Plan B" - Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer

"Driving up the booster rates to 500,000 a day is what we should be arguing about."

BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said the country needs to see such measures now.

"The Westminster government said it would enact Plan B to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed; as doctors working on the frontline, we can categorically say that time is now," he said.

"By the Health Secretary’s own admission we could soon see 100,000 cases a day and we now have the same number of weekly Covid deaths as we had during March, when the country was in lockdown.

"It is therefore incredibly concerning that he is not willing to take immediate action to save lives and to protect the NHS."

ITV News UK Editor Paul Brand warned that going into winter the care home sector in particular is facing a perfect storm of rising Covid cases and falling numbers of carers

Downing Street has said ministers will only activate the Covid Plan B in England if they see the NHS coming under "significant pressure".

The PM's spokesman said there were currently 95,000 hospital beds in the NHS, of which 7,000 were occupied by Covid patients, while around 6,000 were free.

"We knew the coming months would be challenging," the spokesman said, adding: "Obviously we won't hesitate to act if needed."

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Dr Nagpaul said the government has “taken its foot off the brake, giving the impression that the pandemic is behind us and that life has returned to normal”.

He said the reality of the situation is an “unacceptable” rate of infections, hospital admissions and deaths, which he added were “unheard of in similar European nations”.

Dr Nagpaul added: "It is wilfully negligent of the Westminster government not to be taking any further action to reduce the spread of infection, such as mandatory mask wearing, physical distancing and ventilation requirements in high-risk settings, particularly indoor crowded spaces.

"These are measures that are the norm in many other nations."

ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan meets some of the patients in hospital with Covid, as the government sticks to Plan A

Meanwhile, former chief scientific adviser Professor Sir Mark Walport said the current restrictions against coronavirus are probably "not holding things".

He told BBC Newsnight: "Am I worried? Yes. It’s very, very delicately poised. We’ve got a lot of cases at the moment.

"Winter is coming, flu is probably coming. It’s not a good place to be. The evidence is that the current measures are probably not holding things."

But health minister Edward Argar said the original plan for tackling Covid is still working.

He said the "single biggest way" to mitigate the impacts of coronavirus is to "have the jabs, that's the thing".

"Plan A in that sense, if you want to call it that, is still working. But what he highlighted is it's a race - and I've used this phrase with you, I think, before when I've been on your programme - it is a race between the vaccines, and getting those in people's arms, and the virus.

"We're still winning that race at the moment, but it's narrowing, that lead is narrowing. So what we need to do is that sprint for the line."

At a Downing Street briefing on Wednesday, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the UK was seeing "greater pressure" on the NHS but the government will "do what it takes to make sure that this pressure doesn’t become unsustainable, and that we don’t allow the NHS to become overwhelmed".

Deaths "remain mercifully low" at the moment, he said, but added: "We’ve always known that the winter months would pose the greatest threat to our road to recovery."

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

Mr Javid also said that if people do not get vaccinated and fail to make behavioural changes then it is more likely that restrictions will return.

"Am I saying that if we don’t do our bit, get vaccinated, all those behavioural changes that we can make, that we are more likely to face restrictions as we head into winter…? Then I am saying that.

"I think we’ve been really clear that we’ve all got a role to play.

"If not enough people get their booster jabs, if not enough of those people that were eligible for the original offer, the five million I’ve talked about that remain unvaccinated, if they don’t come forward, if people don’t wear masks when they really should in a really crowded place with lots of people that they don’t normally hang out with, if they’re not washing their hands and stuff, it’s going to hit us all.

"And it would of course make it more likely we’re going to have more restrictions. Now we want to avoid those.

"We’ve set out what those restrictions might look like, we’ve set out the Plan B restrictions for example, and we all want to avoid those."

Covid booster jabs are being rolled out across the UK. Credit: PA Images

Mr Javid urged people to have their vaccines, including Covid boosters and jabs for flu.

The UK government reported 223 more Covid deaths on Tuesday - the highest daily reported figure in seven months.

As of 9am on Wednesday, there had been a further 49,139 lab-confirmed cases in the UK.

A further 179 died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Wednesday, according to the government figures.

By Wednesday, hospital admissions stood at 868 on average per day over the last seven days, up from 780 a week earlier in a rise of 11%.