Boris Johnson’s government is resisting calls from a health chief to immediately reimpose some coronavirus restrictions to prevent a winter NHS crisis.
Cabinet minister Kwasi Kwarteng said it is not time to introduce “Plan B”, which could see requirements to wear face masks and the compulsory use of vaccine passports to enter England’s nightclubs and other crowded venues.
But Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation which represents health bodies, warned “we risk stumbling into a winter crisis” unless measures are introduced now.
Further measures may be needed
He called for ministers to come up with a “Plan C” of even tougher restrictions if those measures are insufficient to address pressure on the health service.
The NHS Confederation’s warning came as coronavirus deaths in the UK rose to their highest daily level since early March, while cases are at their highest for almost three months.
England’s autumn and winter coronavirus strategy includes “Plan B” as a contingency measure if the NHS comes under unsustainable pressure.
That could include legally mandating face coverings in some settings, introducing mandatory vaccine-only Covid-status certification and asking people to work from home.
Business Secretary Kwarteng said the government does not “feel that it’s the time for Plan B right now”.
He told BBC Breakfast the return to normal life had been “very hard won”, adding: “The infection rate was always likely to go up as we opened up the economy, because as people get back to normal life, the infection rate was likely to go up.
But Kwarteng added that it is a “good thing” for people to wear masks in public places:
I think people should do what they feel is the right thing to do,” he said. “They’ve got to, I think, be respectful towards other people, they’ve got to keep themselves safe and the public as well.
“The most challenging winter on record”
Taylor said the NHS is preparing for what could be “the most challenging winter on record” and urged the public to “show extra support for the NHS” by “behaving in ways that will keep themselves and others safe”.
It is time for the Government to enact Plan B of its strategy without delay because without pre-emptive action, we risk stumbling into a winter crisis.
Also, health leaders need to understand what a ‘Plan C’ would entail if these measures are insufficient.
The Government should not wait for Covid infections to rocket and for NHS pressures to be sky high before the panic alarm is sounded.”
Taylor said if the Government “fails to get a grip” on rising coronavirus cases, the nation’s recovery from the pandemic could be “put at risk”.
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