Winter

Health Secretary Attempts to Outline What Could Trigger ‘Plan B’ This Winter

Just as plans for vaccine passports at ‘large venues’ left us wondering where exactly the measures would be enforced, we have been left in the dark about what will push the Government to enact ‘Plan B’ (including mask mandates and vaccine passes) or ‘Plan C’ (another full lockdown) this winter. Health Secretary Sajid Javid attempted to clarify the issue this morning but was coy about the specifics. Sky News has the story.

The Health Secretary has said A&E pressures and increasing Covid hospital admissions could trigger the Government’s Plan B for the winter – as experts warned hospital admissions could reach 7,000 a day.

Sajid Javid added that a new variant of concern would not necessarily be a trigger as he refused to rule out a lockdown.

Plan B, which includes mandatory face masks, a work from home order and vaccine passports, was revealed by the Government on Tuesday as part of the autumn and winter plan for dealing with the Covid pandemic.

The Health Secretary told Sky News: “What happens in the NHS is going to be hugely important to me, to the whole country, making sure that we don’t get to a position again where the NHS becomes unsustainable.

“I think we’re going to have to look at a number of measures, so of course that would be the level of hospitalisation, it will be the pressures on A&E, the pressures on the workforce, so we’d have to take all of these together.”

However, he refused to put a number on how many cases or admissions would trigger plan B.

Worth reading in full.

Vaccine Passports, Mask Mandates and Another Lockdown All on the Cards If Covid Infections Don’t Stay Low This Winter

Just days after it led the public into believing that plans for vaccine passports were off the table, the Government has announced that they will be introduced – along with mask mandates and potentially another full lockdown – if booster jabs and vaccines for healthy teenagers fail to keep Covid infections down this winter. Laying out its new plans, the Government said it is “committed to taking whatever action is necessary to protect the NHS”. MailOnline has the story.

Fronting a press conference alongside Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance, the Prime Minister insisted that the U.K. was “incomparably” better placed to deal with the disease this year.

He said he hoped the situation could be kept stable with more jabs and the public behaving sensibly – although ministers have made clear another lockdown cannot be completely ruled out.

Professor Whitty gave a more downbeat assessment saying that infections were “high” relative to last year, and the NHS was under “extreme pressure” even though vaccines were helping significantly.

Meanwhile, Sir Patrick seemed to send a thinly-veiled message to Mr. Johnson by saying that when it comes to measures to stem cases the lesson was “you have to go earlier than you want to, you have to go harder than you want to”. …

Earlier, Sajid Javid was heckled by Tories admitting that ministers can only give Britons the “best possible chance” of avoiding brutal curbs.

In a statement to MPs, he stressed that vaccines can help “build defences’ against the disease, with boosters for the over-50s and jabs for under-16s starting next week.

But Mr Javid was hit with howls of rage from Conservatives in the Commons as he said the blueprint includes the ‘Plan B’ of making masks compulsory “in certain settings”, more working from home and social distancing if the NHS is under threat.

Vaccine passports will be kept “in reserve” and could be introduced in England with a week’s notice, even though they will not go ahead from next month as originally intended. …

The Winter Plan document lays out the details of ‘Plan A’ and ‘Plan B’. But although it does not go into detail about other contingencies, it states that further steps cannot be ruled out.

“While the Government expects that, with strong engagement from the public and businesses, these contingency measures should be sufficient to reverse a resurgence in autumn or winter, the nature of the virus means it is not possible to give guarantees,” the document says.

“The Government remains committed to taking whatever action is necessary to protect the NHS from being overwhelmed but more harmful economic and social restrictions would only be considered as a last resort.”

Worth reading in full.

“You Can Never Exclude the Possibility that There Will be Some New Disease,” Says Boris Johnson as he Warns of “Rough Winter” Ahead

Despite talking of the U.K.’s long, slow lockdown easing as “irreversible”, the Prime Minister today told reporters that an anticipated resurgence of Covid, flu and other diseases means there may be a “rough winter” ahead. Noting that hospitalisations and ICU numbers are up around 30%, Boris Johnson said:

You can never exclude the possibility that there will be some new disease, some new horror we haven’t budgeted for or accounted for… but I think it’s looking good for July 19th to be that terminus point. Things like flu may come back this winter, we may have a rough winter for all sorts of reasons – but that is all the more reason to reduce Covid cases now, give the NHS the breathing space it needs now.

His comments suggest that the reason for the hugely costly decision to defer ‘freedom day’ for a month was to “reduce Covid cases” and “give the NHS the breathing space it needs”. That raises the alarming possibility that restrictions might be re-imposed whenever some pessimistic, unverified modelling suggests the NHS might come ‘under pressure’ during the winter – despite the fact that the NHS comes ‘under pressure’ almost every winter.

There are many criticisms that could be made of this, including that there is no real-world evidence that lockdowns make any significant impact on the course of a COVID-19 epidemic, and that it shows a very narrow and warped sense of priorities when it comes to managing public affairs and public health.

But besides that, even on its own terms it makes no sense to “give the NHS breathing space” by continuing or re-imposing restrictions. Since the main reason experts are so worried about flu this year is they are concerned that lockdowns and social distancing have successfully suppressed flu and other pathogens and left people unexposed to them and thus more vulnerable. In addition to this, Matt Hancock warned last week that the backlog in the NHS of people in need of elective procedures such as hip, knee and eye operations is now estimated to be as high as 12.2 million, resulting in the NHS facing the “biggest pressure in its history”.

But where is this pressure coming from? By the Government’s own admission, the backlog is caused by people staying away from the health service. So how can re-imposing restrictions and stoking panic be the solution to pressure caused by the very restrictions and panic that led people to avoid seeking medical treatment? The only way to break out of this vicious circle is to accept that lockdowns cause more problems than they solve.

“You Can’t Ever Say Mission Accomplished”: Minister Doesn’t Rule Out Winter Lockdowns

Whether it takes place on July 5th (unlikely!), July 19th or later, “Freedom Day” is supposed to be irreversible. So why is a senior health official saying we may need to lock down again this winter and why is a Cabinet Minister unable to deny it?

Dr Susan Hopkins, the Director for Covid at Public Health England, says “we may have to do further lockdowns this winter” – a claim which Justice Secretary Robert Buckland has refused to deny. So will this ever end?

The Independent has more.

Dr Hopkins… said Britain needed to move to a situation where we can “live with this” in the longer term.

She told the Andrew Marr Show: “I think that means that we wouldn’t normally put people into lockdown for severe cases of influenza.

“We may have to do further lockdowns this winter, I can’t predict the future – it really depends on whether the hospitals start to become overwhelmed at some point.

“But I think we will have alternative ways to manage this through vaccination, through antivirals, through drugs, through testing, that we didn’t have last winter, and all of those things allow us different approaches, rather than restrictions on lives and restrictions on livelihoods, that will move us forward into the next phase of learning to live with this as an endemic, as something that happens as part of the respiratory viruses.”

Asked about her comments, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland declined to rule out more restrictions, telling Times Radio: “The essence of the virus is you can’t ever say mission accomplished.”

Worth reading in full.