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The UK health secretary Sajid Javid has said there are “no risk-free decisions” as he defended the government’s “sensible” autumn and winter plan.

Asked why the government has not immediately introduced its more restrictive “plan b” amid warnings of a surge in hospitalisations, he told Sky News that although it is “right for the government to reassure people we have a plan”, vaccines are the “first line of defence”.

He added: “This is all working and has allowed us to make the gains we have in the last few months and return almost to normal.”

While Javid said “we’ve got to remain cautious”, he insisted the government has got a “good plan a”.

“What we’ve announced is well thought through and it is the act of a responsible government to say this is out plan… but just in case things don’t go this way we have to have another plan,” he added.

He said there is going to be “the biggest flu vaccination programme this country has ever seen” and that he wants to increase vaccine uptake.

When asked why they are not adopting the more stringent plan b measures after Sage warned there could be 2,000-7,000 Covid hospitalisations a day in England next month unless the government urgently implements a “basket of measures”, he said “there is no risk-free decision”.

He insisted that the government has “made huge progress” since the start of the year and comparing now and this time last year he said “the big difference, this is huge, are the vaccines”.

He refused to identify specific numbers that would lead to the adoption of plan b but said a new variant would be of “significant concern” and that they would be monitoring factors including hospitalisations and pressures on A&E and the workforce.

Even in a normal winter without Covid he said it can get “very tough” for hospitals. But he said: “Like anyone else, as we remove measures, I want them to be irreversible”

Asked why he and other cabinet members were not wearing masks in a photo he defended not taking such precautious with his colleagues, saying “they’re not strangers”. But he admitted that “of course people are influenced by others”.

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