What is the Government’s Plan B? All you need to know about contingency Covid rules

 What is the Government’s Plan B? All you need to know about contingency Covid rules

There is increasing concern that the Government will soon introduce its ‘Plan B’ Covid strategy, which would involve measures such as mandatory face coverings, in light of rising coronavirus cases across the UK.

The NHS Confederation is among those calling for its implementation immediately, with chief executive Matthew Taylor warning the country would otherwise “risk stumbling into a winter crisis”.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said on Wednesday that the Government was “concerned” about the slow uptake of booster jabs as infection numbers rise.

But ruling out further lockdowns, Mr Kwarteng said that ministers “don’t want to go back into further restrictions” and noted there were no vaccines this time last year.

“I think the conversation about restrictions on travel, restrictions on more lockdowns is completely unhelpful,” he told Sky News. “The vaccine has changed our total approach to this and has given us a measure of security that is very important. I would rule [lockdowns] out.

“As the Health Secretary said it’s something we’re going to have to live with and I think we are managing the situation.”

In September, Sajid Javid set out two alternative blueprints for managing Covid-19 as the weather turned colder, in order to avoid the NHS being overwhelmed.

Plan A, which has been the Government’s preferred approach, broadly relies on vaccinations to avoid introducing restrictions.

Plan B outlines a series of tougher measures that can be deployed to try and suppress the spread. Vaccine passports, lockdown and working from home are included in this arsenal. We have outlined these below.

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Vaccine passports

Mandatory vaccine certification could be rolled out under Plan B. The Government’s blueprint stated they would be introduced in “a limited number of settings, with specific characteristics”, including nightclubs, indoor crowded venues with more than 500 attendees and outdoor crowded venues with more than 4,000 people.

However, the document warned that while the Government “hopes that it would not be necessary to mandate vaccine certification more widely than these settings”, the proposal “cannot be entirely ruled out”.

In a sign they could be introduced quickly if the need arose, the Government only promised that it would seek to give businesses “at least one week’s notice” before bringing them into force.

Under the plan, only double-vaccinated people would be certified by the passports. Negative coronavirus tests and proof of natural immunity after recently recovering from the virus would no longer be permitted.

The vaccine passport would not be mandatory for communal worship, wedding ceremonies, funerals and other commemorative events, protests and mass participation sporting events.

Workplaces would also be exempt. The move would require new legislation.

Mandated masks

Ministers could also legally mandate the wearing of masks again under Plan B. In England, the law forcing people to wear face coverings on public transport and in other indoor settings ended on July 19, although Government guidance still encourages their use in crowded and enclosed spaces. 

Masks could become a legal requirement again, however, as they are judged to help curb the spread of the virus and have a “low economic cost”. The precise settings in which they would become mandatory would be “decided at the time”. The move would require fresh legislation.

Working from home

Reintroducing guidance to work from home is another option under Plan B, although the Government recognised that it would cause more disruption and hit the economy and some businesses harder than the other curbs, so “a final decision would be made based on the data at the time”.

Mr Johnson stressed that there is “social capital” for younger workers in being in the workplace and added that they benefit by learning from colleagues.

However, he said: “If we have to change the guidance that we give on that then we will, but that’s Plan B.”

Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, said: “Working from home is just a way in which contacts inevitably go down, so that’s why it was highlighted as a particularly effective measure to decrease spread at times when you have big increases in levels.”

Lockdown

While the Government said it expected that Plan B would be sufficient to reverse a Covid surge in the autumn or winter, it warned that the nature of the virus “means it is not possible to give guarantees”.

Signalling that a fourth lockdown remained an option on the table, it stated that ministers remain committed to “taking whatever action is necessary to protect the NHS from being overwhelmed”.

However “more harmful economic and social restrictions” would only be considered as a “last resort”, it said.

Vaccine drive

The Government is launching a new push to persuade the five million eligible people who are yet to be vaccinated to receive the jab, as part of Plan A.

Mr Johnson said that “fixing that gap in the number of people who have had their vaccine at whatever age” was the most important message.

It would make a “significant difference”, added Sir Patrick.

Prof Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England, highlighted data showing that an unvaccinated person in their thirties is at the same risk of hospitalisation from the virus as a fully jabbed person in their seventies.

The Prime Minister said it was a “very, very powerful” statistic, as he also warned that, depending on their age, people are up to nine times more likely to die from Covid if they are unvaccinated compared with being double jabbed.

Prof Whitty acknowledged the right of people with “strange beliefs” to reject the jab themselves, but hit out at anti-vaxxers peddling “clearly ridiculous” myths in a bid to influence others against receiving the vaccine.

He said people sharing untruths about the jab in a bid to “scare” others should be “ashamed” of themselves.

Booster jabs

Another key pillar of Plan A is continuing the roll out of booster jabs to all over 50s, younger adults with health conditions, and frontline health and care workers. The third dose will be offered six months after the second dose, with the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna jab recommended.

Sir Patrick said that while the vaccines’ effectiveness was generally holding up “very well”, there was evidence that it was fading, particularly those who were most vulnerable. “The waning of immunity is clear,” he said.

The booster campaign comes in addition to the decision in September by the four chief medical officers of the UK to recommend that children aged 12 to 15 years old be offered a single dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

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