The UK’s government’s strategy is clear; it will attempt to rely almost entirely on vaccines to protect the nation from Covid this winter. There’s a backup plan, though. The government’s winter strategy announced on Wednesday includes vaccines and boosters, and injections for children, as Plan A, whilst Plan B entails expanded usage of face masks, Covid passports, and working-from-home orders, which have been dubbed a “lockdown light.”
The government’s only requirement for going into Plan B is an unendurable strain on the NHS. However, the proposal does not explain precisely what this implies. Covid patients currently account for 7% of all hospital beds. This may not seem like much, but hospitals are already near capacity; thus, Covid cases immediately affect other care. The number of non-emergency treatments being provided is already approaching a fifth of those in the normal year. And, if Covid hospitalizations continue to rise or new respiratory diseases emerge, it will imply more rationing – from knee and hip replacements being delayed to patients waiting longer for an ambulance.
Currently, hospital admissions are at a standstill, but that could soon change. They have increased by 20% in the past six weeks. If this rate of progression persists, it will put hospitals under extreme pressure.
The government’s winter plan outlines the following key points.
An enhanced vaccination program
Vaccines will be offered to 12- to 15-year- olds, on the advice of the chief medical officer, and the third dose for those over 50 will begin immediately to provide better protection for the most vulnerable.
Testing and isolation
Covid positives must quarantine by law for ten days, and the same restriction applies to persons under the age of 18 who have not been double-vaccinated when they come into contact with a positive case.
The government has updated the testing program to remove bubble testing and replace it with an improved examination procedure that it expects will “extend for the rest of this term.” Free rapid lateral flow tests will be available to the general public.
Travel restrictions remain in place, including testing before arrival in the UK and varying requirements over the next few days. A mandated hotel quarantine for visitors from high-risk “red list” countries is still in force. Minsters anticipate that some testing criteria will be reduced from low-risk nations within weeks.
To assist the Covid-19 response, the NHS in England will receive a £5.4 billion cash injection, which was previously announced by Sajid Javid and includes £1 billion to help decrease wait times for elective operations.
The government is anticipated to require that Covid and flu vaccinations become required for frontline healthcare workers and other social care personnel in England.
This entails recapping the messaging on hand-washing and ventilation, mask use in higher-risk locations, and encouraging firms to inform workers to stay at home if they are ill.
The government states that it is “Possible that plan A is not sufficient to prevent unsustainable strain on the NHS and that further actions will be required,” but it has not specified the particular levels at which the following new steps would be triggered.
On 1 October, the Minister of Health announced that he would abandon plans for a vaccine passport requirement for nightclub and public gathering admittance. The idea offers authorities the authority to reintroduce the regulations should infections rise.
The National Health Service Covid pass certifies individuals based on their vaccination status, blood testing results, or natural immunity. However, if plan B is implemented, only full vaccinations will be displayed for persons over the age of 18. The government advises firms to make emergency plans in case the requirement changes. The following are examples of organizations that need a passport:
- All nightclubs.
- Indoor crowded settings with 500 or more people.
- Outdoor crowded settings with 4,000 or more people, such as festivals.
- Any settings with 10,000 or more people, such as large sports stadiums.
Advice to work from home
After 19 July, the UK government reversed its position and handed it over to employers’ discretion. For most office employees, home working will continue in some form for an indefinite period as businesses transition to flexible working long-term. If Covid cases spiral out of control, the winter plan advises that “working from home would be the most effective measure available at reducing contacts, which has a strong impact on transmission and R [the reproduction number].”
In England, masks were only required until July 19th, unlike Scotland and Wales; however, they are no longer necessary in England. The proposed Winter policy would bring back the legal obligation to wear face coverings in “transport and hospitality” settings.
The UK government seems to have learned from past mistakes regarding the handling of the Coronavirus. The strategies set out are reasonable responses to the potential surge in Winter Covid cases. A statement by Boris Johnson said that “The pandemic is far from over, but thanks to our phenomenal vaccine program, new treatments, and testing, we can live with it without significant restrictions on our freedoms.”