The government’s winter Covid plan is too optimistic

The government’s Covid plan for fall and winter has been written to inspire confidence. It opens with a reminder that hospital admissions and deaths remain well below the levels of the previous wave, signaling the success of the UK vaccine program and highlighting investment in the NHS. He specializes in “Plan A” for disease management, which comes down to implementing more vaccines, continued isolation of positive cases, more support for the NHS and social care, clearer advice, and some ongoing border controls.

Everyone hopes, of course, that this trust is well placed. Virus cases and deaths during the summer were not as severe as some feared, and returning to a dark winter would be devastating. That is why the episodic warnings in the continual uncertainty plan must be taken seriously. “New worrisome variables” or a significant decrease in immunity can derail everything. The experience of the past 18 months demonstrates the sobering verdict that “the scenarios that put the NHS under severe and unsustainable stress remain plausible.”

While the government’s plan does a good job of outlining how it hopes to handle the pandemic, it is vague about how it could reintroduce new measures if necessary. There is also the possibility that the additional interventions you describe as ‘Plan B’ are not enough and do not speak to what any Plan C would look like.

Plan A is a good description but a poor guide to future action

The combination of actions in Plan A is a somewhat compelling summary of how ministers are handling the virus at the moment, although the government should not go overboard with its still shaky border controls or its test and trace system. More details are needed on how the NHS is set up to respond to Covid as an endemic disease, as well as more action on how to mitigate social care vacancies. But the plan plausibly describes how the government would respond to the best possible scenario for winter conditions.

More importantly, the plan also succinctly recognizes the critical task of doing more to vaccinate the rest of the world through vaccine sharing and capacity building, although that vaccine is fading due to the prospect of third ‘booster shots. ‘for UK citizens over 50 in general.

But the plan remains largely a description of current or recently announced activity, such as booster shots and punching for 12-15-year-olds, rather than a guide to action. There is no framework for ministers to explain how to balance economic, health and social factors, and there is no equivalent to the mantra of “data, not dates” that we were told by ministerial decisions directed during the spring and summer.

The fallback Plan B does not add up to a credible set of Covid interventions

The government decided for a family reason to toughen the measures, its plan B. Ministers will consider this “if the data indicates that the NHS is likely to come under unsustainable pressure.” That makes sense, but unlike February’s “roadmap” to get out of lockdown, there are no further details or explanation of how ministers and their advisers would assess this risk, or the warning signs that would prompt action. If the government orders the NHS to undertake another massive redistribution towards Covid activity and again delays elective measures, for example, the threshold will be high. If you wanted to catch up on healthy buildup, it would be a lot less.

The three interventions envisioned in Plan B are requiring mandatory vaccine passports in a small number of locations, legally enforcing face coverings in closed and crowded spaces, and considering advising more people to work from home. Even these have tentatively floated, which runs counter to scientific warnings about “the possibility of another big wave of hospitalizations” this fall.

If the NHS is on the brink of unsustainable pressure, it is not credible to believe that such changes, which some other countries are listing as part of the ‘Plan as’, will turn the tide of infection enough to sustain service during the months of winter. . Johnson will need more tools in his toolbox, such as movement restrictions, cancellation of important events, or more income support for self-isolation to spread quickly to reduce hospitalizations and deaths.

The government should tell the public what a worst-case scenario Plan C looks like

The prime minister walks a fine line between the advice he would receive from the medical director, especially caution in recent media appearances, and his whip-head who has to deal with increasing political pressure from ministers and members of the government. restless. This is the last consideration that prevents Johnson from implementing a more comprehensive set of precautionary measures.

Rebel MPs, and possibly the prime minister himself, fear that if the government gets involved in Plan C, such a plan is likely to be published, so the closest the prime minister can get to the public is that “it won’t they can give guarantees “And that the” economic and social restrictions “The most harmful will only be considered as a last resort”.

Part of the prime minister’s job is to chart the path toward his vision of an optimistic future, and the success of the vaccine program gives the government good reason to focus on the positive. The government’s reluctance to promote repression is cause for encouragement, but after 18 months of painful restrictions, Johnson should spend more time describing what his government would do if something worse happened than reassuring his party about what will not happen. Plans announced this week could quickly collapse if the pandemic again overwhelms the government’s ability to respond.