Column: MP James Wild 'I hope we don't need plan B'
The Government’s Covid-19 Response Autumn and Winter Plan published this week does what it says on the tin.
Since the final restrictions were lifted two months ago, we have continued down the road to recovery with people making their own judgements. The economy has grown rapidly and we are learning to live with Covid-19. The Plan aims to sustain this progress.
In last year’s Winter Plan, the Prime Minister wrote that the “scientific cavalry is almost here” with vaccines and improved treatments. Since then, 92 million vaccine doses have been given with 89 per cent of people having had one dose, and 81 per cent having had two. This successful rollout has been the reason restrictions have been removed as the link between cases, hospitalisations, and deaths has been significantly weakened.
The impact of the vaccine is shown by new statistics from the ONS showing that almost 99 per cent of Covid-19 deaths in the first half of this year were people who had not received both doses of a vaccine.
So driving take up of the vaccine is the first line of building our defences. In King’s Lynn rates are 85.1 per cent and 79.1 per cent respectively but the headline figure masks areas and age groups with lower rates. In the House of Commons, I urged the Health Secretary to ensure that evidence on what works in reaching these groups is shared across the NHS. This is the best way to ensure that the NHS has capacity during the winter pressures.
Booster jabs will be made available to the people in the first priority groups from next week. The Government has also accepted the UK Chief Medical Officer’s recommendation to offer first doses to young people aged between 12 and 15.
Testing and self-isolation will continue to identify and isolate positive cases with financial support in place. Several existing legal provisions that were always temporary will be removed as they are unnecessary and disproportionate. Plans for mandatory Covid vaccine passports from the end of September have been dropped.
Additional funding of £5.4 billion has been provided for the NHS to support the Covid-19 response over the next six months, with a £1billion fund to tackle the elective backlog the pandemic created. Everyone can help play their part in reducing the spread of Covid-19 by following guidance including letting in fresh air when meeting indoors and washing hands.
The rules on international travel have been very frustrating and the requirements on tests have been costly. So I welcome that a simpler approach will be introduced with a less burdensome testing approach.
Everyone wants Plan A to succeed but unlike M&S there is a Plan B. That reflects the inherent uncertainty in dealing with a pandemic and would only be triggered if the NHS faced unsustainable pressure. Rather than the lockdown approach, this would include mandating face coverings and encouraging working from home. However, ministers should provide greater clarity on the trigger for such changes.
If you haven’t had your jabs, please get the protection the vaccine offers and encourage family and friends to do the same.