Today’s big question

Why is half of Britain predicting a lockdown?

Booster vaccine programme has been criticised as moving ‘extremely slowly’ as Covid-19 cases hit a peak of nearly 50,000

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng this morning ruled out any lockdowns over the winter and urged people to book their Christmas parties, but it seems the general public are not convinced.

A survey by Savanta ComRes found that 49% of British adults think lockdown restrictions will be implemented in the coming months, with fears highest among the over-55s. 

As cases hit a peak of 49,156 on Monday, three out of four were concerned about another virus wave this winter, although 55% thought the worst of the pandemic has passed. The UK’s number of cases is significantly outstripping its European neighbours, and on Tuesday deaths hit their highest level since March.

Chris Hopkins, who carried out the survey for Savanta ComRes, said: “While it may feel to many that the UK is out of the woods with coronavirus, there is still an underlying feeling – or perhaps fear – among the public that there are more restrictions, including lockdowns, to come.”

Hopkins noted that the “small but significant proportion” – 19% – of the public who feels the worst is still ahead “shows that trust in the vaccine roll-out may still be undermined if the UK enters further restrictions during a winter that will be inevitably challenging for the NHS”.

The poll comes amid accusations that the government roll-out for the booster vaccine is “moving too slowly to protect the most vulnerable”, with figures showing “that fewer than half of those eligible” have received the booster jab, reported The Telegraph.

According to estimates seen by the paper, “22 million people will be ready for their third dose by mid-December” but the slow pace of the programme means that “those most at risk will not be completed until the end of January”.

In September, the government’s scientific advisers recommended that everyone over 50, as well as medical staff and younger adults with medical conditions, should be offered a third dose of a Covid vaccine six months after their second vaccine dose.

Currently, people eligible for a third dose must wait until they are contacted by the NHS before booking a jab – but the delays mean that millions are at risk of “waning immunity”, said the paper. 

The slowdown has been based on a number of factors – but the most significant appears to be that GPs, nurses and pharmacists, who administer the “bulk” of the booster jab programme, are also “having to deal with a major flu vaccine roll-out this autumn” as well as an “increase in demand for doctor’s appointments more generally”, said the BBC

Former chief scientific adviser Sir David King has criticised the pace of the roll-out, describing it as moving “extremely slowly”, as he warned the UK could be facing an extremely serious spike in coronavirus cases over the winter.  

“The disease is rising to another peak and this peak could be as serious as the last,” he told Sky News. The scientist urged the public to keep wearing face masks on public transport and inside buildings, describing it as a “very simple operation” that would help reduce the spread of the disease.

Scientists are also monitoring a descendant of the Delta coronavirus strain that accounts for 10% of new cases in the UK.

Asked on Sky News today if the country could be facing mass quarantine restrictions, the business secretary said: “I would rule that out.” And on Times Radio, he said he would “absolutely” give people the go-ahead to book and spend money on a Christmas party.

No. 10 said it was keeping a “very close watch on the latest statistics”, but that it “always knew the coming months would be challenging”.

“What we are seeing is case rates, hospitalisations and deaths still broadly in line with the modelling as set out a few months back now,” said the prime minister's spokesperson. “But it is thanks to our vaccination programme that we are able to substantially break the link between cases, hospitalisations and deaths.”

Tom Whipple in The Times agreed: “We won’t lock down again, not in the 2020 sense. Schools will never again close en masse.”

But he questions whether lesser policies might be enacted. “Anyone who says that they know for certain that we have seen the end of the Downing Street briefing, and Whitty’s stern I’m-doing-this-for-your-own-good face, is lying: our future is as unpredictable as ever.”

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