It’s boost or bust and a plan for the worst as Boris Johnson reveals emergency options if Covid rates soar through the autumn but an expert warns minsiters need to go earlier and harder
The nation is bracing for another grim winter after Boris Johnson announced a Plan B to be implemented if Covid deaths soar.
It could include vaccine passports being demanded at some indoor venues. A full national lockdown has not been ruled out.
Plan A includes booster jabs and advice on meeting indoors and wearing face masks.
Docs warn ministers are in danger of being too slow, saying: “They speak of a Plan B… they should open their eyes and realise now is the time to act.”
A booster jab rollout for the over 50s and vulnerable people will be the first line of defence against another surge in Covid infections.
The Government intends to stick with its Plan A unless the NHS is again on the brink of collapse.
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Boris Johnson, who today unveiled his Plan B to avoid another devastating winter, is under pressure to go “earlier and harder” with restrictions if cases spike.
Plan B may also mean compulsory face masks and vaccine passports being needed at certain venues.
While people in England could be asked to work from home again. A full national lockdown is not ruled out, though it is a last resort for the Prime Minister who would need the backing of MPs for such a move.
Plan A includes measures – such as wearing face coverings, opening windows and social distancing in crowded indoor spaces – that would only be voluntary.
Julian Hamilton/Daily Mirror)
The Prime Minister was accused of “more chaos and confusion” after being unable to say exactly what criteria would trigger Plan B.
However, the Government is understood to be keeping a close eye on data including new variants and the rate of hospitalisations.
The chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance warned that if Plan B was required ministers must act swiftly and not wait for numbers to get out of control.
He said: “When you make a move, you have to go earlier than you think you want to, you have to go harder than you think you want to and you have need to make sure you have got the right geographical coverage.
“So, if this goes in the wrong direction and cases go up, followed by hospitalisations, it’s important that the measures are put in place early enough and they are significant enough.”
Daily Mirror/Andy Stenning)
Sir Patrick added if the country had gone into last winter – before jabs were available – with the current level of restrictions, cases would have gone through the roof.
Mr Johnson urged the five million people who have not yet taken up the offer of a vaccine to get the jab to help avoid tougher restrictions this winter.
At a Downing Street briefing, the PM added the jabs rollout meant the UK could remain “one of the most free
societies” in Europe with only limited measures to keep the disease in check. Booster vaccines will be offered from next week to around 32 million people who are aged 50 and over or who are clinically extremely vulnerable.
The first recipients will be care home residents and staff, over-80s and frontline health and social care workers.
Geoffrey Swaine / Avalon)
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Ministers think the third jab will help ensure the NHS is not overwhelmed.
But officials are concerned about a spike hitting the health service – already under pressure from staff shortages and the backlog due to Covid – at the same time as a flu outbreak. Last autumn, there were about 1,000 Covid patients in hospital, but now there are over 8,000.
Experts fear Covid hospitalisations in England may rise to 6,000 per day in the coming weeks – which would be higher than the January peak.
The SPI-M sub-group, part of the Government’s SAGE group of scientific advisers, said infection rates would only have to rise slightly to pile pressure on the NHS. They suggested measures such as working from home and mask wearing should be reintroduced while hospital levels are still relatively low.
It comes as Covid cases rose by 26,628 and there were a further 185 deaths.
Doctors are worried about Mr Johnson’s plans. Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the British Medical Association, said: “The Government is advising the public to meet outdoors where possible, and to wear masks in crowded indoor spaces. They clearly believe these measures make a difference, yet are failing to act by making these a requirement. We’ve had this kind of double-speak before, which has resulted in action not being taken until it is too late.”
He added: “While ministers speak of a Plan B – although on what basis is unclear – they should open their eyes and realise that now is the time to act.
“If left too late, we could find ourselves in a position where the NHS is dangerously overwhelmed.” SAGE adviser Prof Calum Semple warned of a tough time for the NHS, saying: “I think we’re going to have a bit of a rough winter.”
The hospitality industry is angry about the vaccine passports plans.
UK Hospitality chief Kate Nicholls said: “The use of vaccine passports – unworkable and with questionable effectiveness – will have a devastating effect on nightclubs and large-scale events.” Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “In the space of a week, Covid passports have gone from being the winter plan, to being scrapped, to being Plan B.
“But the Government can’t tell us when Plan B will kick in or how businesses will be supported to deliver vaccine passports. Is that clear? More chaos and confusion.”
Under Plan A, there will be no official shielding for vulnerable people.
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Free lateral flow tests will still be available this winter but will then have to be paid for. Covid measures that will be retained include powers to direct schools to reopen if they close against Government guidance.
It will remain a legal requirement for people to self-isolate for 10 days if they test positive for the disease.
While the Government can no longer impose local lockdowns, councils are still allowed to shut down individual premises if there is a “serious and imminent threat” to public health.
- A booster vaccination campaign to begin next week for 30 million over-50s and vulnerable people, starting with over-80s and care home staff and residents.
- Frontline NHS and social care staff expected to face compulsory Covid-19 and flu vaccinations.
- People asked to use NHS Covid-19 app, wear a mask in some settings and meet outdoors or open windows.
- Businesses encouraged to use Covid pass or test status of customers. Not enforced by law.
- Government will communicate “clearly and urgently” to the public that risk has increased, and with it the need to behave more cautiously.
- Mandatory vaccine passports for nightclubs, crowded indoor venues with 500 or more attendees and outdoor settings with at least 4,000.
- Legal requirement to wear masks in settings such as public transport.
- Advice to work from home but a “final decision” will be made on data at the time because of “immediate costs to economy”.