Plans for tackling Covid during autumn and winter in England have been unveiled, with Boris Johnson warning the disease “remains a risk”. They include booster jabs for millions – but hold in reserve measures like vaccine passports for certain settings. “Plan A” is designed to prevent the NHS being overwhelmed, and promotes vaccines and testing. “Plan B”, to be used if the NHS is coming under “unsustainable pressure”, includes measures such as face masks.
Under Plan A of the autumn and winter plan, announced by Health Secretary Sajid Javid, ministers will:
- encourage the unvaccinated to be jabbed
- offer vaccines to 12 to 15-year-olds
- begin a booster jab programme for millions
The plan will also include continuing testing, tracing of cases and self-isolation for those who catch the virus. Businesses will also be encouraged to consider using the NHS Covid Pass to check the vaccination or test status of customers.
Under Plan B – which ministers say would only be enacted if further measures are needed to protect the NHS:
- the public would be urged to act more cautiously
- mandatory vaccine passports could be used for mass events and other settings
- face coverings could be legally mandated in some places
Guidance on working from home may also be issued under this plan. Mr Johnson, discussing the plan at a Downing Street news conference, said he was confident vaccinations could protect the gains made so far. The prime minister said he hoped the vaccination programme meant the UK could remain “one of the most free societies” in Europe, with only limited restrictions to keep the disease in check.
Asked in what circumstances he would consider moving from Plan A to the stricter Plan B, Mr Johnson said he would consider the risks, the state of the disease and factors like hospital pressure. Plan B made use of “a number of different shots in the locker”, he said. “You wouldn’t necessarily play them all at once, far from it, you would want to do things in a graduated way,” he said. “Because so many of the population have some degree of immunity, smaller changes in the way we’re asking people to behave can have a bigger impact.” He added that this would “give us the confidence that we don’t have to go back to the lockdowns of the past”.
Sir Patrick Vallance, chief scientific adviser, said that if the country had gone into last winter with the current level of restrictions, cases would have gone “through the roof”. He said it underlined the importance of getting the vaccine to as many people as possible. “There are five million or so people who are eligible for vaccines now who haven’t been vaccinated,” he said. “Trying to persuade those people it is the right thing to do to get vaccinated would make a significant difference.” Prof Chris Whitty, chief medical adviser, warned that “winter is coming” and that respiratory viruses such as flu and others would be “hugely advantaged”. “If you’ve not had your vaccination, now is a very good time to do so,” he said.