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20th Oct 2021

Here we go again – the government says book your Xmas party. What’s ‘Plan B’?

Ava Evans

Britain’s covid infection rate is climbing – and the NHS is extremely concerned 

On Monday there were more daily deaths than on the same date last year – at which point, England had just entered the tier system and was heading for its second lockdown. 

NHS chiefs on Tuesday called for the government to take urgent action, implementing ‘Plan B’, a contingency plan that, among other measures, would see face masks made compulsory in some settings and people being asked to work from home again. 

NHS Confederation CEO Matthew Taylor is asking the government to make preparations immediately or risk another peak crisis that could derail public health efforts.

The NHS is currently tackling a backlog of five million patients.

‘Plan A’, which is currently in place, includes booster jabs – set to be offered to around 30 million people – a single dose of a vaccine for healthy 12 to 15-year-olds and advising people to once again wear face coverings in crowded areas.

‘Stumbling into a winter chaos’

NHS chiefs believe if Britain doesn’t change its behaviour, a winter of chaos is on the cards.

In September of 2020, Chief Medical Officer, Sir Patrick Vallance, co-held a Downing Street Press Conference urging caution in light of Britain’s climbing infection rate.

The Summer of Rishi Sunak’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme had just ended, owing itself to soaring coronavirus case numbers.

While cases were less than a quarter of their current number, Johnson took the decision to restrict indoor and outdoor social gatherings to the rule-of-six.

That September of 2020, Sir Patrick Vallance addressed the nation, warning the country could see a dangerously high 200 deaths-a-day by mid-November.

In October of 2021, we are outflanking that dangerously high figure – and yet the tories have not implemented any further restrictions.

This time last year, to curb the rising infection rate, Boris Johnson and his team introduced the tier system.

When England surpassed 200 deaths a day, the Tories brought in the second national lockdown.

Could this mean another lockdown is on the cards?

Business Minister, Kwasi Kwarteng, toured the broadcast circuit Wednesday “categorically” promising there won’t be another lockdown. 

Kwarteng even told Times Radio he’d booked his Christmas party – but promises from ministers aren’t always the best crystal ball.

On 12 October 2020, the Prime Minister told the country at a Downing Street Press conference that he didn’t want another national lockdown “right now” because it would harm the economy. 

Two weeks later, we were in one. 

How can we avoid another lockdown?

Chair of Global Public Health, at Edinburgh University, Professor Devi Sridhar told Good Morning Britain on Wednesday that the UK should learn “from our European neighbours” who have managed to curtail the spike and avoid another lockdown. 

Sridhar says countries that have embraced masks in indoor spaces, vaccine certification, and pushing vaccination to a higher level – especially in younger age groups – are seeing low transmission.

Many European countries have embraced face masks in a way Britain simply hasn’t.

Official figures from Network Rail say a measly one in five passengers is wearing a face covering on public transport, compared to 80 per cent before ‘Freedom Day’ in July. 

Alex Arenas, a public health expert in Spain, told i newspaper: “Without a doubt, the combination of wearing masks and the fast vaccination programme has brought the coronavirus contagion rate down in Spain.”

He said research showed that “once people stop doing things like wearing masks it is hard to get them to go back”.

Will the vaccines save us?

The UK’s vaccination programme was one of the first in the world, starting in December 2020. The early rollout could be contributing to the problem.

Analysis from the UK’s ZOE Covid app study of over 400,000 people who had received both shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine found its effectiveness fell to 74 per cent five or six months after receiving both doses.

In the same study, analysis of over 700,000 people who had received both doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine showed its effectiveness fell to 67 per cent after four to five months.

The spread of the highly infectious Delta variant during Spring/Summer has also been seen to reduce vaccine efficacy. 

Painfully, the early rollout could be contributing to rocketing cases now.

Politically speaking 

The PM would have a tough time ordering another national lockdown. 

Opinion polls suggest the Tories have taken a battering after raising National Insurance hikes and overseeing rising gas prices. 

Britain’s growing anti-vax cohort and general aversion to wearing face coverings suggest news of a fourth lockdown would not be well received. 

It’s worrying to see ministers confirm “Christmas is on” so early in the game. 

In the lead-up to 2020’s festive season, relaxations were promised, if not guaranteed by the Tories.

And look what happened.

Should I buy the turkey?

The UK’s lack of HGV drivers is still threatening Christmas as we know it.

The Tories have been urged to relax immigration rules to curtail the supply chain crisis.

Last week, a government minister confirmed only 20 UK visas had been issued to foreign lorry drivers, with applications having been “relatively limited” for the emergency scheme.

Covid-aside, the turkey might not be available at all.

Christmas is up ‘in the air’

On Wednesday, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said discussions around restrictions on holidays were “completely unhelpful”.

The cabinet minister confirmed: “We don’t want to go back into lockdown or into further restrictions.”

When challenged on the government promising the same thing last year before cancelling Christmas, he added: “This time last year, we didn’t have the vaccine.”

But with soaring cases and the question of the vaccine’s efficacy looming, Christmas is certainly in question.

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