With the UK’s daily coronavirus cases exceeding 50,000 for the first time in three months this week, Stylist takes a closer look at the government’s plan for the next couple of months.
With Covid-19 cases rising across the UK, this week has seen renewed discussion about the government’s coronavirus ‘winter plan’ – including the much-talked-about “Plan B”.
The proposals, which were unveiled during a Downing Street briefing on 14 September, laid out the government’s plan of action when it came to keeping coronavirus cases down and avoiding further lockdowns throughout the winter months.
Since then, the focus has been on “Plan A” – offering booster jabs, developing anti-viral medications and asking people to wear a mask in crowded and enclosed places.
But with coronavirus cases rising again – and health experts calling on the government to take action in order to protect the NHS from becoming overwhelmed – the potential for tightened restrictions (aka, the government’s “Plan B”) is looking more and more likely, even though a spokesman for the Prime Minister has said there are currently “no plans” to use the contingency measures.
So, what is “Plan B”? And what happens if “Plan B” isn’t enough to keep restrictions down? Here’s everything we know about the government’s plan at the moment.
What is Covid “Plan B”?
Under the government’s “Plan B”, mandatory face masks, vaccine passports and work from home orders could return as restrictions are tightened.
When it was first unveiled, Health Secretary Sajid Javid told the Commons that such contingency plans would only be activated if there was “unsustainable” pressure on the NHS and initial efforts to control the spread of the virus proved ineffective.
However, while health experts are now warning that such pressure is starting to build, the Health Secretary has said that the government currently has no plans to implement these measures, and has instead called on the public to wear masks, mix outdoors when possible and take regular lateral flow tests.
Will there be another lockdown?
While Boris Johnson didn’t rule out another lockdown during his 14 September briefing, this week the business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said another lockdown was “not going to happen” and that talk of lockdowns was “not helpful”.
However, last month, the health secretary Sajid Javid acknowledged that he could not rule out the possibility – especially if a new vaccine escape variant was to emerge.
He told BBC Breakfast: “No one wants to see another lockdown, I certainly don’t. I don’t think we are going to need to see another lockdown. I think the vaccines are working.
“But I think it would be irresponsible for any health minister in the world to say that this or that is 100% ruled out. Not least because I just don’t know whether at some time in the future – next year, the year after, the year after that – there might be a vaccine escape variant that doesn’t work with the current suite of vaccines.”
What have health experts called for?
Despite the government’s insistence that now is not the time to take action, health experts have been speaking out about the pressure that the NHS is already facing, and called on those in power to take action as soon as possible.
Speaking to The Guardian earlier this week, Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said immediate action was required to prevent the NHS from “stumbling into a crisis” where the elective care recovery would be jeopardised.
“We are right on the edge – and it is the middle of October,” he said. “It would require an incredible amount of luck for us not to find ourselves in the midst of a profound crisis over the next three months.
“The government ought to not just announce that we’re moving to Plan B, but it should be Plan B plus. We should do what’s in Plan B in terms of masks… working from home, but also we should try to achieve the kind of national mobilisation that we achieved in the first and second waves, where the public went out of their way to support and help the health service.”
He continued: “We need that same sense of pulling together over the next few months, trying to avoid risky behaviour if it’s not necessary. This is not a question of if we don’t do it something might happen. If we don’t do it, it would take a miracle for us not to find ourselves in the midst of a really profound crisis in our health and social care system over the next three months.”
Could there be a “Plan C”?
Reports have emerged this week that ministers are considering a Covid “Plan C” should “Plan B” fail to bring down hospital admissions – but what would such a plan involve?
According to the Evening Standard, “Plan C” would most likely mirror the ‘tier’ systems that were in place for much of last year. This means that a ban on household mixing could be added to the restrictions outlined under “Plan B”, but that pubs, restaurants and shops would remain open.
However, ministers have consistently denied the existence of a “Plan C” – indeed, during an interview on Sky News on Thursday morning, health minister Edward Argar said that he was unaware of any such plan.
Where will vaccine passports apply?
If “Plan B” is introduced, it’s looking likely that vaccine passports will be introduced in some settings. This is despite the fact that the idea of such passports provoked furious backlash from Tory MPs back in July.
As Stylist previously reported, under the plan, the passports would be applied to all nightclubs; all indoor, crowded settings with 500 or more people such as music venues; all outdoor settings with 4,000 or more people such as festivals; and any venue with 10,000 or more people, such as big sports matches.
The health secretary had previously confirmed plans to introduce Covid passports from October had been ditched, but in September the government acknowledged they might need to be implemented at short notice – and encouraged businesses to introduce them voluntarily.