Current pressure on the NHS is “sustainable”, according to a health minister, who denied the government had a “plan C” that would ban the mixing of households at Christmas in England if cases continued to rise.
Edward Argar told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that while the NHS was “under huge pressure” it was not the right time to introduce any additional measures to control the spread of Covid.
The British Medical Council chair, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, accused ministers of being “wilfully negligent” after the health secretary ruled out immediately implementing the government’s coronavirus “plan B”.
Nagpaul said: “It is wilfully negligent of the Westminster government not to be taking any further action to reduce the spread of infection, such as mandatory mask wearing, physical distancing and ventilation requirements in high-risk settings, particularly indoor crowded spaces. These are measures that are the norm in many other nations.”
Argar urged people to get vaccinated to help “ease that pressure on the NHS”. He said plan A was still working, adding: “It’s a race … between the vaccines, and getting those in people’s arms, and the virus. We’re still winning that race at the moment, but it’s narrowing, that lead is narrowing. So what we need to do is that sprint for the line.”
On Wednesday the health secretary, Sajid Javid, predicted new infections could hit a record 100,000 a day and urged millions of eligible people to come forward for booster jabs. Javid urged people to wear masks in crowded places and test themselves before going to Christmas parties.
But the government has been accused of sending mixed messages, with most Conservative MPs declining to wear masks in the House of Commons or in packed cabinet meetings, and the business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, encouraging the public to book Christmas parties.
On Thursday a leading virologist said the UK was probably already close to 100,000 cases a day. Dr Chris Smith, from the University of Cambridge, said half of Covid cases were asymptomatic, meaning the number of active cases in the UK was likely far higher than currently recorded, “we just don’t know about lots of them”.
Pushed about Conservative MPs wearing masks, Argar said there was a “leadership role for members of parliament on all sides”, adding: “I think it’s for those individual members of parliament to read the guidance, consider it, bear in mind what Sajid has said and reach their own views.”
Argar was asked about comments from the UK government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, who said it was important to act before it appeared necessary.
Argar told Sky News: “I think what Patrick’s saying there is you’ve got to look ahead. We know that you have a lead time of two weeks roughly between infections and hospitalisations, and for the two weeks between, sadly, hospitalisations and deaths in the most serious cases.
“I think what Patrick saying is always look to the future, consider when is the right moment to act … I don’t think we’re at that point yet.”