Act to cut COVID cases early to avoid tougher measures later, UK PM's advisers say

FILE PHOTO: A man wearing a protective face mask walks during the morning rush hour, amidst the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in London, Britain, October 20, 2021. REUTERS/Toby Melville

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson should prepare to introduce some measures to limit rising COVID-19 cases as acting early will reduce the need for tougher restrictions later, his scientific advisers said in advice published on Friday.

Johnson's government has said there is no need yet to introduce a "Plan B" involving mask mandates, work from home orders and vaccine passports, even as cases rise after he scrapped England's COVID restrictions in the summer.

But health minister Sajid Javid has warned that such measures could be introduced if more people don't come forward for COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots.

COVID-19 cases in Britain are up 17.9% over the last seven days.

"In the event of increasing case rates, earlier intervention would reduce the need for more stringent, disruptive, and longer-lasting measures," the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) said in minutes from a Oct. 14 meeting.

"SAGE advises that policy work on the potential reintroduction of measures should be undertaken now so that it can be ready for rapid deployment if required."

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Friday found that COVID-19 prevalence had risen again, and was at its highest level since January.

Deaths are much lower than in January, when England was entering a third national lockdown, and Johnson has said that the widespread deployment of vaccines means that the link between cases and deaths has been disrupted.

He has said that the government will rely on vaccines rather than lockdowns to navigate a difficult winter, and SAGE said that things were unlikely to be as bad as last winter.

"Scenarios modelled for the coming winter and into 2022 suggest COVID-19 hospital admissions above the level seen in January 2021 are increasingly unlikely, but there are uncertainties around behaviour change and waning immunity," the minutes said.

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by James Davey)

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