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British Health Secretary Sajid Javid said on Sunday he did not expect the country to see any more lockdowns to fight the COVID-19 crisis and ruled out the use of vaccine passports to allow people to gather in crowded venues such as nightclubs.
“I am not anticipating any more lockdowns. I think it would be irresponsible for any health minister around the world to take everything off the table, but I just don’t see how we get to another lockdown,” he told The Andrew Marr Show on the BBC.
Asked about so-called COVID-19 passports, Javid added: “What I can say is that we’ve looked at it properly, and whilst we should keep it in reserve as a potential option, I am pleased to say we will not be going ahead with plans for vaccine passports.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson will set out plans this week to manage the pandemic over the colder months, Javid told Sky News on Sunday, suggesting the British government could remove some restrictions by relying on vaccines.
“Now that we’re entering autumn and winter … the prime minister this week will be setting out our plans to manage COVID over the coming few months, and in that we will be making it clear that our vaccine program is working,” he said.
The U-turn came just days after the government’s vaccines minister and the culture secretary suggested that vaccine passports would still be necessary, despite growing opposition from legislators. Such passports are required in other European countries, such as France.
Javid also said he was looking into getting rid of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for travellers returning to the U.K. from certain countries, ”as soon as I possibly can.”
Since July, the government has relaxed some rules for people returning to the country from abroad, but expensive COVID-19 tests for many destinations remain in place.
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What’s happening around the world
As of Sunday morning, more than 224.3 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 case tracking tool. The reported global death toll stood at 4.6 million.
In Asia, Japan’s government says more than 50 per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated. Economic Revitalization Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who is in charge of COVID-19 measures, told NHK public television’s weekly talk show on Sunday that number is expected to reach about 60 per cent by the end of September.
The government is studying a roadmap for easing restrictions around November, allowing fully vaccinated people and those who test negative to travel, gather for parties or attend mass events.
In Turkey, thousands of people protested in Istanbul against COVID-19 restrictions on Saturday. Unmasked crowds gathered in Maltepe, an open space on the city’s eastern side. A woman in the crowd held a placard that read: “We are born free and we want to live free.”
Turkey’s mask mandate outdoors and in public places remains in place after reopening in July after a lockdown. The country has seen a rise in cases and deaths since then, with daily infections increasing from about 5,000 to more than 20,000.
In Europe, Chancellor Angela Merkel has implored Germans to make use of a week-long COVID-19 vaccination campaign in which people can get a free jab on public transport, as well as at places of worship, shops and sports facilities, starting Monday. Experts worry the country is not properly prepared to fight COVID-19 this winter with a double-dose vaccination rate of about 62 per cent.
In Africa, just over three per cent of people across the continent have been fully vaccinated. Health officials and citizens in Africa often have little idea if vaccines will be available from one day to the next, as wealthier Western nations are awash with supply and mulling booster shots.
In the Americas, hospitals in Iowa’s second-largest city are limiting elective procedures because of increased numbers of patients, driven partly by a surge in COVID-19 admissions. The Cedar Falls Gazette reports that both UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital and Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids have confirmed their facilities are preserving capacity because of high patient counts in recent weeks.