Government has announced a Plan A and a Plan B for dealing with covid through the autumn and winter.
Plan A is a continuation of the current relaxation of restrictions with a focus on vaccinations, staying protected and ensuring the NHS can cope.
Under Plan A the NHS will be offering booster doses the week commencing 20 September to individuals who received vaccination in Phase 1 of the COVID-19 vaccination programme (priority groups 1-9).
Clinics will continue to offer vaccine to those that are eligible but have not yet taken up the offer.
Separately to the booster programme, the NHS is already offering a third vaccine dose to people aged 12 and over with severely weakened immune systems and the NHS will offer those 12-15 year olds not covered by previous advice with a first dose of the Pfizer vaccine from next week.
The plan outline says it is possible that further doses of the COVID-19 vaccine may be offered in the future and may include annual vaccination programmes for those who need additional protection.
Testing and isolating
The Government will continue to expect everyone with COVID-19 symptoms to self-isolate and take a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. The legal requirement to self-isolate for 10 days if an individual tests positive for COVID-19 will remain in place
Over autumn and winter PCR testing for those with COVID-19 symptoms will continue to be available free of charge. The Government plans to expand capacity from 39,000 tests per week currently to over 150,000 by March 2022.
In secondary schools, further education and higher education, the Government expects that testing for students will continue for the rest of this term.
The Government will continue to provide the public with access to free lateral flow tests in the coming months. However, at a later stage, as the Government’s response to the virus changes, universal free provision of LFDs will end, and individuals and businesses using the tests will bear the cost.
Contact tracing will continue through the autumn and winter. This means NHS Test and Trace will continue to check with all positive cases whether they need support to self isolate, find out who they may have passed the virus onto and alert those contacts, and ask all contacts to take a PCR test as soon as possible to help identify positive cases
Since 16 August, in England, under 18s and those who are fully vaccinated no longer need to self-isolate if they are identified as a contact. If they are identified as a contact, they are advised to take a PCR test and only need to self-isolate if positive. Where contacts are over 18 and not fully vaccinated, they will, as now, be legally required to self-isolate unless they are taking part in an approved daily contact testing scheme.
The Government will continue to offer practical and financial support to those who are eligible and require assistance to self-isolate. The Government will review the future of these regulations as well as this support by the end of March 2022.
Health and social care
The Government announced on 6 September that there will be an additional £5.4 billion cash injection to the NHS in England to support the COVID-19 response over the next 6 months. This includes £1 billion to help tackle backlogs in elective procedures caused by COVID-19 and the delivery of routine surgery and treatments for patients.
From 11 November it will be a condition of deployment for anyone working or volunteering in Care Quality Commission-regulated care homes providing accommodation for persons who require nursing and personal care to be fully vaccinated
A free flu vaccination will be available for all previously eligible groups:
- Primary school children.
- 65 year olds and over.
- Vulnerable groups.
- Pregnant women.
The Government has also extended eligibility for a free flu vaccination this year to include:
- Secondary school children.
- 50-64 year olds.
Behaviour guidelines say meeting outdoors vastly reduces the risk of airborne transmission. However, if you are indoors, being in a room with fresh air (and, for example, opening your windows regularly for 10 minutes or a small amount continuously) can still reduce the airborne risk
Wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed settings where you come into contact with people you do not normally meet.
Get tested, and self-isolate if required. Try to stay at home if you are feeling unwell. Wash your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitiser regularly throughout the day. Download and use the NHS COVID-19 app to know if you’ve been exposed to the virus.
Businesses are asked to ensure there is an adequate supply of fresh air to indoor spaces
Provide hand sanitiser to enable staff and customers to clean their hands more frequently, and clean surfaces which people touch regularly.
Display an NHS QR code poster for customers to check in using the NHS COVID-19 app, so they are alerted if there’s an outbreak and can take action to protect others. Consider using the NHS COVID Pass.
The Government will shortly set out a revised framework for international travel, in advance of the next formal checkpoint review, with a deadline of 1 October
Government says Plan B would only be enacted if the data suggests further measures are necessary to protect the NHS.
The guidance document says: “It is possible that Plan A is not sufficient to prevent unsustainable pressure on the NHS and that further measures are required. This is not the Government’s preferred outcome but it is a plausible outcome and one that must be prepared for.”
The Government’s Plan B includes:
Communicating clearly and urgently to the public that the level of risk has increased, and with it the need to behave more cautiously.
Introducing mandatory vaccine-only COVID-status certification in certain settings.
Mandatory vaccine-only certification would be introduced for visitors to the following venues:
- All nightclubs;
- Indoor, crowded settings with 500 or more attendees where those attendees are likely to be in close proximity to people from other households, such as music venues or large receptions;
- Outdoor, crowded settings with 4,000 or more attendees where those attendees are likely to be in close proximity to people from other households, such as outdoor festivals; and
- Any settings with 10,000 or more attendees, such as large sports and music stadia.
There are some settings that will be exempt from requirements to use the NHS COVID Pass, including communal worship, wedding ceremonies, funerals and other commemorative events, protests and mass participation sporting events.
Mandatory face coverings in certain settings
If Plan B is implemented, the Government will bring back the legal requirement to wear face coverings in some settings. The precise settings will be decided at the time.
Work from home
The Government would also consider asking people once again to work from home if they can, for a limited period. The Government recognises this causes more disruption and has greater immediate costs to the economy and some businesses than the other Plan B interventions, so a final decision would be made based on the data at the time.
Support for councils
The Government will continue to support and work with local authorities and local areas directly to reduce the spread and minimise the impact of COVID-19. 94. This includes support for areas with enduring transmission. These are those parts of the country where the case rate has remained above the national or regional average for a prolonged period. Support includes targeted testing and programme support for public health activities such as vaccination.
At step 4 of the roadmap, the vast majority of COVID-19 regulations were removed. The Government has reviewed the remaining regulations and decided, subject to agreement from Parliament, that it is necessary to extend the following regulations until 24 March 2022, at which point they will be reviewed:
- The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) Regulations 2020, which impose legal requirements to self-isolate on positive cases and unvaccinated close contacts.
- The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No. 3) Regulations 2020, which enable local authorities to respond to serious and imminent public health threats.
- The Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel and Operator Liability) (England) Regulations 2021, which impose testing and quarantine requirements on arrivals in England, will remain.