Jabs and swabs to help the UK return to normal

Vaccines and wider testing will mean less reliance on social restrictions as the UK returns to normal post-coronavirus, the Government said.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced proposals for the new tier system in England to replace the current lockdown on Monday, hours after the Oxford-AstraZeneca team announced its vaccine had proved 70% effective.

This followed similarly positive results from trials of a vaccine created by Moderna and another by Pfizer/BioNTech.

Under the Covid Winter Plan, published alongside Monday’s announcement, the Government warned a shift from economic and social restrictions to reliance on science “will not happen overnight”.

It added: “Recent developments on testing make it possible to reduce cases in the highest prevalence areas alongside the tiers. Together with the prospect of effective vaccines, these advances provide confidence that as we approach spring, life can begin to return closer to normal.”

The Government said it had secured access to more than 350 million doses of vaccines from seven developers between now and the end of 2021.

These include 100 million of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab and 40 million of the Pfizer/BioNTech innoculation.

The NHS is currently working to establish mass vaccination centres, and will take into consideration the requirement to store the Pfizer vaccine at minus 70C.

Meanwhile, 60 million doses of each of the Novavax, GloxoSmithKline/Sanofi and Valneva treatments have also been agreed, but no Phase III data on efficacy have yet been published.

However, the Government also cautioned against seeing the vaccine as a silver bullet, saying: “It is also important to remember that the exact strength and duration of immunity provided via vaccination is not yet known.

“Protection by vaccination takes time to build, requires a full course, and it is unknown how well the first vaccines will stop the virus passing between individuals.”

Testing is also a key part of the plan, with Downing Street previously announcing close contacts of people testing positive for Covid-19 can have daily tests as an alternative to self-isolation in a scheme due to be rolled out nationwide from early next year.

The report said: “The Government will continue piloting further rapid testing in schools, colleges and universities, and will deploy rapid testing for specific one-off events.”

Areas in Tier 3 will also receive support for a “six week testing surge”, where the general population will be offered Covid screening, following successful trials in Liverpool and Merthyr Tydfil.

On the travel side, those arriving in England will be able to end their quarantine period with a negative coronavirus test after five days from December 15.