Health secretary Sajid Javid has played down the chances of coronavirus restrictions being introduced this winter, saying England is “firmly” stuck to Plan A for now.
Javid also ruled out imposing compulsory vaccines, a step that has been taken in European countries such as Austria where covid cases are on the rise.
Speaking on Sky News, the health secretary said that while ministers must “remain cautious, not complacent in any way”, people should “look forward to Christmas together”.
“As we all look forward to Christmas, it’s very sad to see cases rising — surging in parts of Europe,” he said.
“We’ve always known that this virus, it loves the winter, it like the cold, darker days that winter brings and we need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to protect ourselves against that.”
He said what had made a “real difference” in the UK compared with Europe was the booster programme, with 15million jabs delivered, and urged those eligible to come forward for their third shot.
“All of us, we’ve all got a role to play in this and in our national vaccination programme,” he said.
“And if you’re eligible for your first shot, second shot, third shot, please come forward, and let’s look forward to Christmas together.”
According to the latest data, a further 150 people died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Saturday, bringing the UK total to 143,866.
There were also a further 40,941 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases in the UK.
England is currently following the government’s so-called Plan A model, which places a heavy focus on vaccines, booster jabs and testing as a means to keep case rates under control.
The government has warned it will be prepared to activate Plan B measures if it needs to, which would involve reintroducing compulsory mask-wearing and working from home guidance as well as bringing in vaccine passports.
“If we needed to take further measures with Plan B then we would do so, but we’re not at that point,” Javid said.
Asked whether the UK should be “dusting off Plan B just in case”, Javid replied: “Well the first thing I’d say if I may is we made a tough decision back in the start of the summer.
“Other countries didn’t follow our course and we decided that of course we want to start opening up, and if you are going to do that, it is best to do it into summer — it is far safer to do it in summer.
“Sadly, other countries in Europe did not do that. But looking ahead, as we look down towards winter, we need to make sure that we remain cautious, we are not complacent in any way.”
He added: “I have mentioned the importance of the booster programme, but in terms of any other potential measures, we have said all along we have got Plan A and that is where we firmly are at the moment.”
Protests have been erupting across Europe this week after several countries decided to reimpose lockdown rules as another wave hits the continent.
There has been unrest in the Netherlands after its government imposed a three-week shutdown last weekend, meaning bars and restaurants must close at 8pm and crowds are banned at sports events.
Meanwhile, in Austria, an initial lockdown for the unvaccinated has been superseded by a full national lockdown that will kick in on Monday.
As part of the lockdown, there will be a legal requirement for people to get vaccinated 1 February 2022.
Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show, Javid said compulsory vaccines for the general population was not “something we would ever look at”.
“It is up to Austria, other countries, to decide what they need to do,” he said.
“We are fortunate that in this country, although we have vaccine hesitancy, it is a lot lower than we are seeing in other places.”
“In terms of mandatory vaccines for the general population I don’t think that is something we would ever look at.”