What does the government have in its toolkit to combat virus?
What is Plan A?
The government says the current plan has five pillars that prevent further restrictions needing to be implemented
Enhanced vaccination programme
Vaccines will be offered to 12- to 15-year-olds. A booster programme will offer a third vaccine dose for over-50s, to begin within days.
Testing and isolation
There are few social restrictions in England but those testing positive for Covid-19 must quarantine by law for 10 days, a rule that applies to over-18s who have not been double-vaccinated when they come into contact with a positive case. School bubbles have been replaced with an enhanced testing programme. Free rapid lateral flow tests will continue to be available.
Travel restrictions still apply, including tests before arrival in the country and varying requirements in the days afterwards, and mandatory hotel quarantine for arrivals from high-risk “red list” countries. Ministers expect to ease some testing requirements from low-risk countries within weeks.
There will be a £5.4bn cash injection to the NHS in England to support the Covid-19 response over the next six months. Vaccinating healthcare staff is crucial. The government is likely to order Covid and flu vaccinations as mandatory for frontline health and wider social care staff in England.
This means messaging again about washing hands, ventilation, and wearing masks in at-risk spaces, plus urging businesses to tell unwell workers to stay at home.
What is Plan B?
It is possible plan A is not enough “to prevent unsustainable pressure on the NHS and that further measures [will be] required”, says the government, though it has not set out the precise thresholds to trigger the following measures
Ministers abandoned plans for mandatory vaccine passports for entry to nightclubs and mass events from 1 October, but the plan gives them the right to reintroduce the measures. Currently the NHS Covid pass available on the app certifies individuals based on vaccination, tests, or natural immunity status; but if Plan B were implemented it would rest only on vaccination for over 18s. Businesses requiring the passport would include nightclubs, indoor settings with 500 or more people, outdoor crowded settings with 4,000 or more, and any settings, like big sports stadiums, with 10,000 or more present.
Advice to work from home
This advice was dropped after 19 July and left to firms’ discretion. A return to advice to work from home would be a headache for the government, which was forced to into a U-turn last summer after a steep rise in cases. The plan says Sage would advise: “Working from home is one of the most effective measures for reducing contacts.”
Masks were mandatory until 19 July in English shops and on public transport. There is now no requirement to wear them in England, though the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, has imposed them on Transport for London travel. The government recommends face coverings in crowded and enclosed spaces. If Plan B were implemented the government would bring back the legal requirement to wear face coverings in “some settings”.