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Covid winter plan promotes jabs but prepares curbs in England

Warning Covid “remains a risk”, Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined a “Plan A” – promoting vaccines and testing.

He said “Plan B” – with measures including face masks – would aim to prevent the NHS being overwhelmed.

The PM emphasised how “smaller changes” now have a big effect, thanks to jabs.

“More harmful economic and social restrictions would only be considered as a last resort,” the autumn and winter plan says.

Under Plan A, ministers will:

It will also include continuing testing, tracing of cases and self-isolation for those who catch the virus, Mr Johnson told a Downing Street news conference.

Businesses will also be encouraged to consider using the NHS Covid Pass to check the vaccination or test status of customers.

Under Plan B:

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, but Mr Johnson stressed the benefit of returning to the workplace for younger people.

Asked in what circumstances he would consider moving from Plan A to the stricter Plan B, the prime minister said he would consider the risks and state of the disease through real-time data.

“The thing I would stress about Plan B is that it contains a number of different shots in the locker and you wouldn’t necessarily play them all at once, far from it,” Mr Johnson 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.”

media captionProtecting the NHS from being overwhelmed “has to remain the objective” says the PM
Chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Valance, said that while the relationship between cases and hospitalisations has been “really much less” through vaccines: “If you saw that changing again that would be a cause for concern.”

Prof Chris Whitty, the UK government’s 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.

The government wants to avoid bringing back restrictions in England.

Not just the big ones – like closing down shops or pubs. But the smaller ones too – like telling people they must wear face coverings in certain venues or that they should work from home.

The autumn and winter plan keeps the latter on the table. The prime minister gave us an idea of why. He doesn’t want Covid vaccine passports, he says, but if it prevents having to close certain venues in future, he’s prepared to keep the prospect alive.

The plan also says “more harmful economic and social restrictions” are a last resort – ministers are desperate to avoid them.
But the uncertainties of the next few weeks and months mean they cannot be taken off the table completely.

Earlier, Health Secretary Sajid Javid told MPs it was highly likely frontline NHS staff and those in wider social care settings will need to have Covid-19 and flu vaccinations so they can be deployed.

The health secretary said the government would be “keeping an open mind” and waiting for the results of a consultation but he believed this would be “an important step in protecting those at greatest risk”.

He described Plan B measures as those “that we can call upon only if they are needed and supported by the data to prevent unsustainable pressure on the NHS”.

Under that plan, the government expects proof of vaccination would be mandatory for nightclubs, crowded indoor venues with more than 500 attendees, crowded outdoor events with more than 4,000 people, such as festivals, as well as any settings with more than 10,000 people.

Mr Javid said the government would remove more of its powers in the Coronavirus Act, including those directing the temporary closure of schools.

However, those that are “critical” to the pandemic response, such as supporting statutory sick pay for those self-isolating, will remain.

Mr Javid suggested PCR tests for fully vaccinated travellers would be scrapped in favour of cheaper lateral flow tests – with a review due by 1 October.

A further 26,628 coronavirus cases were reported in the UK on Tuesday, alongside another 185 deaths within 28 days of a positive test.