No.10 rejects NHS call to trigger Covid Plan B despite highest deaths since March

Government "sticking to autumn and winter plan", spokesperson says
Photo: Mark Thomas/Alamy Stock Photo

By Alain Tolhurst

21 Oct 2021

Downing Street has rejected calls by the NHS to move to its “Plan B” to deal with Covid-19 this winter despite the highest case and death figures since March.

A Number 10 spokesperson said the number of hospital admissions and deaths are still "substantially lower" than they were earlier in the year, and also ruled out any further lockdowns.

"The important thing is the fact that our vaccination programme has been successful in breaking the link between cases and hospitalisations and deaths," they said.

"Our focus remains on ensuring we get boosters out to those who are eligible."

The spokesperson added: "There isn't any proposed plan for any further lockdowns. We are sticking to the autumn and winter plan we have set out."

Earlier today the business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the government does not "feel that it's the time for Plan B right now" but suggested it was a "good thing" for people to wear masks voluntarily.

It came after Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, warned "we risk stumbling into a winter crisis" unless measures such as face masks and vaccine passports are introduced in England.

He called for ministers to come up with a "Plan C" of even tougher restrictions as he revealed the NHS is preparing for what could be "the most challenging winter on record”.

Taylor added: "The government should not wait for Covid infections to rocket and for NHS pressures to be sky high before the panic alarm is sounded.”

Last month Boris Johnson unveiled his Autumn/Winter strategy, which contained a list of measures the government could escalate to if needed, such as reinstating work-from-home guidance, introducing strict vaccine-only entry conditions for some venues and events, and making it mandatory to wear masks in crowded places and on public transport.

Yesterday a further 223 people died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19, the highest figure for daily reported deaths since March 9.

Meanwhile, the seven-day average for cases is standing at 44,145 infections per day, giving the UK one of the highest rates of infection in the world, with 463 per 100,000.

By comparison Germany is reporting 80 per 100,000, France 48 and Spain just 24.

In terms of vaccine uptake despite early success there are concerns around the take-up of booster shots and jabs for 12 to 15-year-olds.

Professor Martin Marshall, head of the Royal College of GPs, told BBC Radio 4's World at One: "We know that immunity is waning. Six months after you receive the second vaccination we know that immunity is - in some cases - considerably less, it will be different for different people.”

He said the number of people eligible for a booster jab is around 30 million, but only 3.8 million people have received one so far.

"We know that the booster vaccination is incredibly important in order to protect individual patients and indeed to protect the NHS during a winter that we expect to be really difficult, not just with Covid but with flu and other infections as well.” Professor marshal added.

Asked if Sir Keir Starmer believed the government should activate ‘plan b’, a Labour spokesperson said this afternoon it was for ministers to be “clear about what level for hospitalisations and infections” would trigger it.

But they added: “What we've seen consistently is mixed messaging from the government, what the public wants is the certainty of knowing what the situation is that will trigger Plan B, and it's for them to set out what they regard as the conditions that would would make that necessary.”

The spokesperson said the booster programme is “clearly stalling”, while the rollout for children needs accelerating, and work to improve the number of winter flu shots delivered, as it helps bring down hospital admissions to ensure that the NHS can cope better.

“So with the failures that we're seeing on both the booster programme, children's vaccination programme and the flu vaccination programme, there's a triple whammy that is going to hit the NHS if the government doesn't get a grip and and improve the delivery of these programmes,” they added.

Labour are calling for more pop-up vaccination centres, as well as better making better use of community pharmacies, and calling for a “much more concerted effort to ensure that everyone who is eligible is getting a booster jab”.

The PM’s spokesperson said there are around 2,200 sites currently open, 500 more than were available earlier this year.

Alain Tolhurst is chief reporter at CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where this article first appeared.

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