Yvonne Fovargue MP: Covid-19 is still main public health threat
I want to take this opportunity to wish all readers of the Observer a happy and prosperous 2022.
COVID-19 is still with us. With new variants presenting significant challenges, the goal must be to ensure we can live with the virus through effective vaccines, treatments, and common-sense public health measures.
Analysis by the UK Health Security Agency finds two jabs are not enough to prevent symptomatic infection from Omicron, but a third dose provides strong protection.
In response, the Government is bringing forward its target to offer every eligible adult a booster.
Anyone over 18 who received their second dose of the vaccine at least three months ago is now eligible to receive a booster.
To support this effort, the Health Secretary confirmed new vaccination sites - including pop-up and mobile sites – more vaccinators and the mobilisation of 42 military planning teams to assist with the rollout.
Having repeatedly called for the booster programme to be ramped up, I fully support this effort.
Vaccination remains our best line of defence. I urge anyone who has not yet had the jab to do so, and for all eligible people to come forward to get the booster.
It is safe and it is effective. People can book online via the NHS National Booking System, which also includes details of local walk-in centres. But there is, in my view, much more the Government must do, such as improving the availability of testing kits, speeding up the vaccine roll-out for 12 to 15-year-olds, fixing sick pay to ensure people can self-isolate and improving ventilation in public buildings, particularly schools.
I will always act in the best interests of our NHS, our public health, and our nation.
I therefore support the additional measures outlined by the Government as part of its ‘Plan B’ to contain the spread of COVID-19. But I do not do so lightly. Restrictions impact on people’s lives, livelihoods, and liberties.
I have consistently argued against any wide-ranging rollout of certification based on vaccination status alone.
I welcome that the Government has accepted Labour’s proposal to give people the option of presenting a negative test as an alternative to certification, and that certification will not be required for access to essential services, for example in emergency health settings.
COVID passes can help to support businesses by giving people the confidence to go out and allow venues to operate at higher capacity.
Without these measures - and with rising infections and more hospitalisations - we risk seeing the Government forced to impose more draconian measures on these sectors, shutting down our cultural sector and collapsing the economy once again.
Certification also provides an added incentive to take up vaccination. It is not a vaccine passport. It is, in effect, a default requirement to show a negative test to enter venues where the virus is most likely to spread, with an opt-out available to those with an NHS COVID pass.
But for certification to work, the Government must ensure everyone has access to the tests they need.
I want everyone to be able to enjoy Christmas and the New Year safely this year.
I hope that COVID passes, as well as the other measures recently introduced and the rollout of the booster vaccine, will prevent the need for further restrictions which have a greater impact on our lives, livelihoods and liberties.
The Government confirmed all new public health regulations will be reviewed by January 5, 2022 and will expire on 26 January 2022.
I assure you I do not want these regulations in place longer than is necessary.
But this is a concerning moment in the pandemic. We have learned it is vital to act decisively.
The ‘Plan B’ precautionary measures have been recommended by the chief medical officer and the chief scientific advisers and are based on scientific evidence.
They are proportionate, necessary and will give us time to get people boosted and better understand the Omicron variant.
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