The Observer splashed this morning on the news that the Government is secretly planning to roll out ‘Plan B’, in spite of repeatedly claiming that it has no intention of doing so.
New evidence has emerged that the government is paving the way to implement ‘Plan B’ measures in England to combat the spread of COVID-19, amid warnings from health chiefs that a “vortex of pressures” is encircling the NHS.
In the clearest sign to date that Whitehall is actively considering additional measures, the Observer has learnt that the U.K. Health Security Agency (UKHSA) contacted local authorities on Friday to canvass their level of support for the “immediate rollout of the winter plan – plan B”.
The disclosure comes as senior doctors warn that operations are already being cancelled due to NHS staffing shortages and scientists warn of “a triple whammy” of respiratory illnesses this winter, with Covid, flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which causes cold-like symptoms but can be serious for children and older adults.
You can read the whole story here.
How much should we read into the fact that the UKHSA – the successor to Public Health England – has consulted with local authorities about implementing ‘Plan B’? Is the agency just preparing for every possible scenario, just in case, or is it doing the Government’s bidding ahead of new Covid restrictions being imposed?
The former, according to Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who was asked about the story on Andrew Marr this morning. MailOnline has more.
Rishi Sunak insisted there was no need to move to ‘Plan B’ to cut Covid cases today – after health chiefs discussed whether there needed to be an “immediate rollout” of tougher measures to combat a surge in cases.
The Chancellor insisted that the data shows that bringing back working from home and introducing mandatory Covid passports was not yet required.
His comments to the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme came after it was reported that the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) contacted local authorities on Friday to canvass their level of support for the “immediate rollout of the winter plan – plan B”.
An ‘official – sensitive’ document seen by the Observer sought opinions from the leaders and chief executives of councils across England to be fed to the Cabinet Office before then [sic] end of the day.
But Mr Sunak today said: “The data does not suggest we should be immediately moving to Plan B.”
However a leading Government scientist said “some kind of Plan B” was needed immediately.
Professor Adam Finn, who is on the Joint Committee of Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said COVID-19 hospital admissions and deaths are rising, and warned against complacency in what he said is a “worsening” situation.
Meanwhile, the Labour Party is ratcheting up pressure on the Government to reintroduce restrictions, seemingly indifferent to the fact that the burden of such measures fall disproportionately on the least well off. MailOnline has more.
Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves said the Government should introduce its ‘Plan B’ to tackle the rising rates of coronavirus now.
Speaking on Marr, Ms Reeves was asked what Labour’s position was on reintroducing restrictions such as the wearing of face coverings and working from home.
She said: “Labour as a responsible opposition have always said that we would follow the science, and we’ve seen today that SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) are saying that some aspects of Plan B, like wearing masks on public transports and in shops, and also working from home more flexibly should be introduced.
“I think the first thing is the Government have got to do more to make Plan A work.
“If the scientists are saying work from home and masks, we should do that. So get A working better because the vaccination programme has been stalling, introduce those parts of Plan B.
“But there are also things not in A or B that need to be done, like paying statutory sick pay from day one and also better ventilation in public spaces.”
Asked directly whether Plan B should be introduced now, she said: “Yes, but let’s not let the Government off the hook with Plan A either.”
You can read both stories here.
The pressure on the Government to introduce ‘Plan B’ – and then, no doubt, another lockdown – is coming from the same sources it did this time last year: the NHS, SAGE, the DHSS, the Labour Party, the trades unions and, of course, the mainstream media. The Government is resisting the pressure for three reasons: (a) Matt Hancock and Michael Gove are no longer in the ‘Quad’ lobbying Boris and Rishi to lock down; (b) Boris is reluctant to squander the political capital he’s built up by supposedly avoiding the need for further restrictions by successfully overseeing a mass vaccination programme; and (c) the public mood has shifted a little, becoming marginally less pro-lockdown, as evidenced by recent polling.
But I’m not at all confident the Government won’t implement ‘Plan B’ – or worse – if infections, hospitalisations and deaths tick up again. Even though there’s zero evidence that mask mandates, vaccine passports and working from home do anything to suppress the virus, if daily infections climb above 100,000 the Government will calculate that it needs to be seen to be doing something, even if it will make no difference and cause enormous collateral damage. Consequently, we should all pray that infections start to tail off this week, as we know they will before long, just as they have in every previous wave regardless of whether the state introduces further restrictions or not.