The threat of lockdown restrictions being reintroduced this winter is starting to loom after the UK recorded its highest daily level of Covid-19 related deaths since March.
The figures come as new coronavirus cases also reached their highest level for almost three months, prompting calls for the government to enforce stricter measures now.
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What has the government said?
In his first ever No10 press conference, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said on Wednesday (20 October) that ministers do not believe the pressures on the NHS are unsustainable, so additional measures are not currently needed.
This comes despite warnings that Covid-19 cases could reach 100,000 per day as the country enters what is expected to be a challenging winter period.
The government is relying on the success of the vaccination programme to prevent the NHS from becoming overwhelmed, and issued another plea for people to come forward for their jabs.
Mr Javid warned if people do not get vaccinated, and take precautions such as wearing masks in crowded places, it is more likely that restrictions will be tightened and Plan B could be put in place.
He said: “Am I saying that if we don’t do our bit, get vaccinated, all those behavioural changes that we can make, that we are more likely to face restrictions as we head into winter…? Then I am saying that.
“I think we’ve been really clear that we’ve all got a role to play.
“If not enough people get their booster jabs, if not enough of those people that were eligible for the original offer, the five million I’ve talked about that remain unvaccinated, if they don’t come forward, if people don’t wear masks when they really should in a really crowded place with lots of people that they don’t normally hang out with, if they’re not washing their hands and stuff, it’s going to hit us all.
“And it would of course make it more likely we’re going to have more restrictions.”
What is Covid Plan B?
The government’s Plan B for tackling coronavirus this autumn and winter could be introduced if the situation worsens.
The plan would see the reintroduction of mandatory face masks in indoor public places, work-from-home guidance put back in place, and potentially see strict vaccine-only entry conditions implemented for some venues and events, such as nightclubs.
There could also be communication to the public that the level of risk has increased and with it the need to behave more cautiously - a tactic officials suggested had worked previously when cases rose.
However, the winter strategy did not set out what thresholds cases and hospital admissions would need to reach to trigger Plan B, although Professor Neil Ferguson estimated this month that it would be necessary if hospitalisations breached 1,200 - around a third higher than its current rate.
The Prime Minister has insisted that Plan B should be introduced, if necessary, to avoid a fourth lockdown this winter, with his official spokesman saying there are “a number of different factors that would play into” a decision to bring in contingency measures.
Is there a Covid Plan C?
Cabinet Office officials are reportedly already discussing proposals for a ban on household mixing, which could form part of a potential ‘Plan C’, according to the Telegraph.
The restrictions on socialising could be implemented if booster jabs fail to bring the virus under control by Christmas.
Mr Javid has said the government is focusing on getting unvaccinated people to come forward for their jabs and rolling out booster shots, but warned restrictions will be “more likely” in the future if people fail to “do their bit”.
However, government sources deny there is such a plan, but warned if the situation deteriorated despite Plan B measures, ministers would introduce a lockdown for the fourth time as a last resort, which would effectively be Plan C.
Health minister Edward Argar said a Plan C which would ban the mixing of households at Christmas was not being considered when asked about a report in the Telegraph.
He told Sky News: “That’s not something I’m aware of, I checked it out and I’m told that is not a story with foundation.
“Of course, as a government, you look at – as we’ve done with our Plan B – alternatives and ways that you might, if you needed to, start easing that pressure.
“The specifics of that and what was mooted in it as I understand it, as I only glanced at it I’m afraid on my way in this morning, about limiting household mixing, things like that … is that it isn’t something that is being actively considered.”
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