he UK is “getting ready to live with Covid” but is “not quite there yet”, Michael Gove has said.
The Cabinet minister told Sky News the UK has one of the “most open” and “one of the most liberal approaches of any country in Europe” when it comes to Covid but regulations were still needed to protect the NHS.
But he added: “We always keep things under review because we’re always guided by the facts, by the science, and by changing circumstances.
“So I think it’s striking to note that in the United Kingdom overall, particularly in England, we have one of the most open regimes, one of the essentially… one of the most liberal approaches of any country in Europe.
“However, we also need to balance that with a determination to ensure that we are not overwhelming the NHS.”
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India begins booster rollout
India began administering Covid vaccine boosters to front-line workers and vulnerable elderly people on Monday.
It came as the Omicron variant fuelled an almost eight-fold rise in daily infections over the past 10 days.
The health ministry said only 5 per cent to 10 per cent of the infected have been hospitalised, compared with 20 per cent to 23 per centduring the Delta wave that peaked in May.
Authorities in the cities of Delhi and Mumbai say most people have shown no or only minor symptoms and have recovered quickly at home.
Dr David Nabarro, the World Health Organisation’s special envoy on Covid, told Sky News that Covid tended to follow a pattern of surging “every three to four months”.
He said: “It’s difficult to use past behaviour to predict the future. And I don’t like doing that too much.
“But I would agree that the pattern, I think, that is going to happen with this virus is continued surges, and living with Covid means being able to prepare for these surges and to react and really quickly when they occur.
“Life can go on, we can get the economy going again in many countries, but we just have to be really respectful of the virus and that means having really good plans in place for dealing with the surges.”
Swab your throat and nose when taking LFTs, say Israeli scientists
People self-testing for Covid should swab their throat as well as their nose when using lateral flow test kits to increase the chances of detecting the Omicron variant, a top Israeli health official has said.
Many kits being sold in the UK only require people to swab their nose to pick up traces of the virus.
On Israeli Army Radio, Sharon Alroy-Preis, Israel’s public health chief, said antigen tests, used widely in the country, are less sensitive than PCR tests in detecting illness.
“In order to increase their sensitivity we will from now on recommend swabbing the throat and the nose. It’s not what the manufacturer instructs but we are instructing this,” she said.
NHS likely to be under pressure for ‘2 to 3 weeks’
The NHS is likely to be under real pressure for “the next two or three weeks, perhaps longer”, Michael Gove said.
The Cabinet minister told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Our first responsibility at the moment must be to support the NHS, but you quite rightly legitimately ask if we get through – and at the moment I hope and pray that we will get through this difficult period – then there will be better times ahead.
“And I think one of the things that we do need to think about is how we live with Covid, how we live with this particular type of coronavirus.
“There are other coronaviruses which are endemic and with which we live, viruses tend to develop in a way whereby they become less harmful but more widespread.
“So, guided by the science, we can look to the progressive lifting of restrictions, and I think for all of us the sooner the better. But we’ve got to keep the NHS safe.”
‘The end is in sight’, says WHO boss
Dr David Nabarro, the World Health Organisation’s special envoy on Covid, said the virus is going to pose a very difficult situation for the next three months “at least” but “we can see the end in sight”.
He told Sky News: “I’m afraid we are moving through the marathon but there’s no actual way to say that we’re at the end – we can see the end in sight, but we’re not there.
“And there’s going to be some bumps before we get there…I can’t tell you how bad they’re going to be, but I can at least tell you what I’m expecting.”
He said the world was likely to see new variants emerge, leaving politicians facing “tough choices”.
Archbishop of Canterbury urges Britons to get vaccinated
The Archbishop of Canterbury has urged people to get vaccinated “to look after their neighbours” but said the UK should “encourage” not condemn those who refuse the jab.
Asked what society’s attitude to the unvaccinated should be, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think we need to be encouraging rather than condemnatory, because condemning people doesn’t do much good, apart from anything else, but also it increases the general sense of anger that comes at a time of insecurity and fear and grief.
“I think we need to be encouraging to people to look after their neighbours.”
He quoted Jesus as saying “love your neighbour as yourself”, and added: “So, if you do that, it seems to me you go and get vaccinated.”
Tests ‘allow people to manage their risks’
Pressed on free tests, Prof Medley said: “I think that the value of the moment of getting free tests is that it does allow people to manage their risks.
“And we have seen since July, the number of submissions was roughly constant, sort of just under 1,000 a day, up until the beginning of December.
“That can really only come about if people are managing their risks and the free diagnostics have enabled that.”
Government ‘can make cost-effective decisions about virus once it becomes endemic’
The Government will be able to make “cost-effective decisions about how it’s going to manage Covid to improve public health” once the virus has become endemic, a scientist has said.
Graham Medley, professor of infectious disease modelling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said ministers would no longer need to “manage the disease to try and reduce its own risk of hospitals being overcrowded”.
Asked whether that could mean an end to free mass testing and free mass vaccinations, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The decisions that the Government makes about vaccinating, for example against measles, are based upon decisions in terms of public health, but also the costs.
“And I think to some extent that approach will become more and more likely as we go forward. Vaccines are really the things that are changing the landscape, both in terms of public health and in terms of decision making.
“As ever, Government has to make a decision, balancing all these different views and different industries’ perspectives, to come up with what it feels to be the correct policy.”
Spanish PM says it ‘may be time to track pandemic differently’
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has claimed it may be time to track the pandemic differently as Covid’s lethality has decreased due to vaccination.
“We have the conditions to gradually, with precaution, open the debate at a technical level and European level, to start evaluating the evolution of this disease with different parameters than we have until now,” Mr Sanchez said in an interview with radio station Cadena SER.
It follows a report in El Pais newspaper which suggested that Spain could use a method similar to how it follows the flu, without recording every case and without testing all people presenting symptoms.
Lateral flow tests will be free ‘for as long as we need’, says Gove
Lateral flow tests will be free for “as long as we need”, Michael Gove has said.
The Levelling Up Secretary told Sky News it was “impossible to predict” how long that would be.
But he said: “But it is the case that in this country lateral flow tests are free, unlike in many other jurisdictions, they’re a vital tool in making sure that we can curb the spread of the infection and also that people who are needed to isolate do so.”
He said: “We are moving to a situation – we’re not there yet – but we are moving to a situation where it is possible to say that we can live with Covid and that the pressure on the NHS and on vital public services is abating.
“But it’s absolutely vital to recognise that we are not there yet and as the Health Secretary has reminded us, there will be some difficult weeks ahead and that is why we all need to continue to test, continue – if we are positive – to isolate and continue broadly to support the NHS as it goes through a challenging period.”