Boris Johnson has said there is “absolutely nothing to indicate” the country will enter a new lockdown this winter, although he added the government would “do whatever we have to do to protect the public”.
Mr Johnson admitted there were currently “high levels” of infection in the UK, with more than 52,000 new coronavirus cases recorded on Thursday.
But the prime minister maintained he was not yet ready to reintroduce COVID measures in England – under the government’s “Plan B” – in an attempt to dampen the rising number of infections.
He insisted the current rate of infections was “fully in line” with predictions made earlier this year.
Asked whether he was ignoring the advice of scientists by not yet reintroducing the command for people to work from home where they can, Mr Johnson said: “We keep all measures under constant review – we’ll do whatever we have to do to protect the public.
“But the numbers that we’re seeing at the moment are fully in line with what we expected in the autumn and winter plan.
“What we want people to do is to come forward and get their jabs.
“We also want young people, we want kids at school to be getting their jabs with complete confidence and there will be booking systems opening from tomorrow in addition to the vaccination programme in schools.
“The message is that the boosters are fantastic, the levels of protection are really very high.”
Pressed on whether a full national lockdown was out of the question, Mr Johnson replied: “I’ve got to tell you at the moment that we see absolutely nothing to indicate that that is on the cards at all.”
The prime minister also confirmed that “a lot of people are looking at” whether the time between a second vaccine dose and a third booster jab should be shortened from six months to five months for most people, as has been suggested by former health secretary Jeremy Hunt.
“That’s a very good question and it’s an important question. I think a lot of people are looking at that issue,” Mr Johnson said.
“I heard with great interest what Anthony Harnden of the JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation)… had to say this morning about that.
“I think that people should be coming forward with the same spirit of determination to get their boosters as we saw earlier on this year. It’s a very good thing to do, it gives you a huge amount of protection.
“We always expected that we would see numbers rise right about now – that is happening. And you’ve also got into account the waning effectiveness of the first two jabs, so get your booster now.”
Earlier on Friday, Prof Harnden, the deputy chair of the JCVI, said the independent committee would look at cutting the timeframe between second doses and boosters.
He said six months had been shown to be the “sweet spot” for having a booster, adding the main issues in the programme were accessibility to the vaccine and persuading people to have one.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid on Friday hailed how five million booster vaccines and third doses have now been administered across the UK.
“Hitting over five million booster jabs across the UK is a fantastic achievement as we keep ahead in the race between the vaccine and the virus,” he said.
PM refuses to say whether he’ll ‘lead by example’ by wearing mask in Commons
By Greg Heffer, political reporter
Boris Johnson has refused to say whether he will wear a mask in parliament in future despite government guidance being for people to wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces.
Amid rising COVID infection levels across the UK, some have questioned why many MPs have not been donning masks in the House of Commons – or at their political party conferences over the past month.
Cabinet ministers are also at odds on the issue of mask-wearing, with Health Secretary Sajid Javid urging his fellow Conservative MPs to wear masks in the crowded Commons chamber.
But Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the Commons, has suggested Tory MPs do not need to wear masks in parliament because they “know each other”.
Asked on a visit to a vaccination centre in west London on Friday whether MPs should be leading by example on the issue – and whether he himself would wear a mask in parliament – the prime minister refused to say whether he would don a face covering in the Commons in future.
“I think there are lots of steps that we need to take to continue to follow the guidance,” he replied.
“So commonsensical things like washing your hands, wearing a mask in confined spaces… where you’re meeting people that you don’t normally meet. That’s sensible.
“But the key message for today is for all people over 50 to think about getting your booster jabs. When you get the call, get the jab.”
During Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Mr Johnson – like many Conservative MPs – was see entering the Commons chamber without wearing a mask.
Dr Kit Yates, a senior lecturer in mathematical biology at Bath University and a member of the Independent SAGE group of scientists on COVID matters, claimed the prime minister’s stance on mask-wearing was “absolute nonsense”.
“This idea that you should only wear a mask when you’re meeting people you don’t know is absolute nonsense,” he told Sky News.
“Because the vast majority of people get infected by people they do know.
“The public health messaging surrounding the government at the moment is absolutely appalling.
“And the irony is we could do really small things like wearing masks, like working from home… that would help us bring down the high levels of cases that we’re seeing at the moment.”