The Government will be sending 100,000 Lateral Flow Tests a day to essential workers in industries including food processing, HGV drivers, railway signalling staff, and other critical workers. These are separate and additional to those which are already being provided for those including teaching, the NHS, and care settings.
The capacity to do this is a result of our testing programme, the biggest in Europe. Across the UK we conduct 520,000 PCR tests a day, have conducted over 400 million tests since the beginning of the pandemic, and delivered over 31 million tests to schools in the run-up to Christmas.
However, as a result of Omicron’s prevalence we do need more testing capacity. Therefore the Government has suspended the requirement for a confirmatory PCR test to confirm an asymptomatic LFT positive. Once you test positive from a LFT, if you have no symptoms you should isolate for 7 days.
If you test you should register it on gov.uk and if you have symptoms you should still take a PCR test.
It is important we take specific, targeted measures to protect the public, the NHS, and the economy from Omicron and other potential new variants. It is right the Government reserves the ability to implement further restrictions should they be needed.
From 4 am Friday 7th January the Government will scrap the requirement for a pre-departure test as these are having a limited impact on the spread of Omicron.
The Government is also lifting the requirement for travellers to isolate upon arrival in the UK. The system we are returning to is for travellers to take a LFT on their second day after returning from abroad and, if positive, a PCR test to help identify any potential new variants entering the UK.
If you qualify as fully vaccinated for travel to England, and you will arrive in England after 4 am, Sunday 9 January, you can choose to take a lateral flow test instead of a PCR test after you arrive in England.
Please see the Government website here for more details: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-testing-for-people-travelling-to-england
There are still nine million people in the UK eligible for their booster jab who have not yet had it. Getting the booster is the best way to protect yourself, your family, and your community.
90% of those in intensive care units have not had their boosters and 60% have not had any vaccine at all. Clearly demonstrating just how important it is to get your vaccine. There are over two million appointments available this week and I encourage anyone with concerns to talk to their doctor, who will have the most up to date information.
15th December 2021:
Yesterday the House of Commons voted on regulations which implemented the Government’s Covid-19 ‘Plan B’, in light of the Omicron variant. I studied carefully the regulations and the medical advice before making my decision about how to vote.
I understand that some people are completely opposed to any prospect of any further restrictions. We have all certainly sacrificed a lot over the last 18 months and it has been incredibly difficult for many.
However, I have said all along, that on weighing such matters, I must take any threat to NHS capacity seriously. If the NHS is overwhelmed this will impact to access the highest level of care for anybody who requires emergency treatment for whatever reason, such as an accident, not just those with Covid-19. Therefore, so far throughout the pandemic I have consistently supported every action or intervention the government has proposed.
I attended a briefing by the Chief Medical Officer yesterday. He set out clearly the data showing that Omicron is far more transmissible than the delta variant, with cases doubling in the UK between two and a half and three days.
There is not yet have comprehensive data on the severity of this variant, but rising rates of hospitalisation in South Africa show that it certainly may have the potential to cause harm. Even if severity is lower or the same as delta, high transmissibility means that the omicron variant can still have a severe impact, with the threat of more hospitalisations and unsustainable pressure on the NHS. However, the available evidence suggests if vaccinated the length of stay in hospitals is reduced and currently the over whelming majority of people in intensive care units are unvaccinated.
The data from the UKHSA which Professor Whitty revealed that being double vaccinated offers minimal protection against Omicron infection is worrying. This makes it even more important than ever to receive the protection of a booster vaccine.
Together, all this means cases are quickly rising in the United Kingdom, and that the NHS could be under real pressure in January. It is right therefore that the Government considers taking effective action and keeps the situation under review as more information becomes available.
The most important protection against any variant remains vaccination. I strongly encourage everyone to get their booster as quickly as possible if you have not done so already, please book in for your booster here: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/coronavirus-vaccination/book-coronavirus-vaccination/
Or make plans to attend a local drop-in centre, which you can find here: http://swlondonccg.nhs.uk/covid/where-can-you-get-vaccinated/vaccination-walk-in-clinics/
I voted for the regulations which extended requirement to wear a face covering, unless exempt, to all indoor public settings, including attractions and recreation. Hospitality remains exempt.
I voted against the regulations to require either proof of a negative lateral flow test, or double vaccination, to enter certain venues and events. You can listen to my interview on Times Radio this morning on this vote, here: https://twitter.com/TimesRadio/status/1471028419894857732?t=SziuIm3GpDcWYQgVxK8Nww&s=19
In my previous statement on this matter, I stated that “the key as to whether so called vaccine passports should ever be used is the rationale, the implementation, and the expiry of such a measure. As ever, I shall look very carefully at any firm if the Government seeks to their domestic introduction.”
All rights are balanced with responsibilities and the rights of others. I recognise there is a moral dilemma here; is vaccine and testing certification a mechanism to creating a safer society or an unacceptable intrusion of privacy and erosion of civil liberties?
Individuals should be free to choose to refuse vaccination for their personal reasons or refuse to show any such evidence. However, this freedom is balanced by the freedom of others to remain safe from a highly infectious and dangerous disease and to refuse the unvaccinated entry to their premises.
However, I believe it is right that all options are considered to stop the spread of this virus, but they must be effective.
This is not the case with this proposal, given the small number of venues this will apply to and given being double vaccinated offers very minimal protection against infection and transmission of Omicron. Professor Whitty set this out clearly in a briefing to MPs, stating that our first wall of protection had been removed.
Therefore, a vaccine certification system relying on double vaccination will have almost no effect in reducing the spread of omicron.
I asked the Secretary of State about this in the House of Commons and made the suggestion that until everyone has had the chance to have a booster vaccine, a wider lateral flow requirement may be more effective. You can read my intervention here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2021-12-14/debates/8034393B-C568-4DE6-8695-1D63F957537E/PublicHealth#contribution-CA4740F5-ED22-47F7-A3B6-6D10B1B3F52B
It would also have been sensible to suggest that certificates should show the booster and therefore introduce the regulations only when that was available to the whole population.
There are also issues with the drafting of the regulations and their implementation. The certification requirements apply for venues of over 500 people, but only if people are ‘likely to stand’, not sit. Pubs with dancefloors are exempt from entry certification until 1am, but nightclubs are not, and venues can only require stop checks if they judge checking certification at the door is too dangerous.
I understand why the Government, and the Chief Medical Officer are so concerned about Omicron, and that precautionary and proportionate measures may be required, especially are we learn more. However, it is both essential to actually combatting this virus and to maintain public confidence that the measures we enact are effective. These measures are likely to present a false sense of security and could actually cause more transmission in the short term.
COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of deployment for all frontline health and social care workers
I also voted for regulations stating that health and social care providers in England will be required to ensure workers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, unless they are exempt.
This is because ensuring the maximum number of NHS staff are vaccinated will help ensure the most vulnerable patients gain the greatest possible levels of protection against infection. Elderly people, those with disabilities and some seriously ill people in hospital face a higher risk from COVID-19 than the wider population, and are more likely to use health and care services more often.
The measures will also protect workers, which is important for hospital trusts where extensive unexpected absences can put added pressure on already hardworking clinicians providing patient care.
The vaccination programme has been successful in weakening the link between infection, hospitalisation and deaths.
The regulations will apply to health and social care workers who have direct, face-to-face contact with people while providing care – such as doctors, nurses, dentists and domiciliary care workers, unless they are exempt.
The majority of NHS workers are already vaccinated, with 91% of NHS staff having had two doses, but that figure needs to rise. Vaccination remains the single strongest protection against COVID-19, and it is essential every health or social care worker takes up the offer of a vaccine to protect themselves, their colleagues and patients. It is also clear that we need all NHS staff to have their booster as soon as possible.
The requirements will come into force in the spring. There will be a 12-week grace period between the regulations being made and coming into force to allow those who have not yet been vaccinated to have both doses. Enforcement would begin from 1 April.
This will allow time for health and social care providers to prepare and encourage workers uptake before the measures are introduced.
There is a longstanding precedent for vaccination in NHS roles. Workplace health and safety and occupational health policies are already in place to ensure those undertaking exposure-prone procedures are vaccinated against Hepatitis B – such as surgeons, because of the potential health risk.
I will always act in what I think will ensure the best public health and safety outcomes for the people of Wimbledon.