‘Cautious and irreversible’ was the phrase that the Prime Minister used earlier this year when the plans to slowly ease lockdown restrictions was released. At that time it seemed that the Prime Minister was a victim of his own success: a superfast vaccine rollout lead many – mostly Conservative – MPs to believe that we could open up the country much earlier than the Government had suggested. They were largely placated by the promise that this time it really would the end and that come freedom day all restrictions would end, the Prime Minister would have gloriously defeated his mortal enemy and we could all go back to talking about something else. Sadly, here we are again.
Cases and deaths are at their highest rate for months: over 50,000 covid cases were recorded yesterday and this week deaths reached their peak at over 200. All the furore came to a head when a Covid press conference was announced on Wednesday. Everyone’s least favourite TV show was back. The press went into its usual overdrive, speculating what was about to be announced. However, the Health Secretary’s first Covid press conference was all about reassurance. Whilst the NHS is under “greater pressure” the Government always knew that the winter months would be tougher, he remarked. He stated that the vaccine rollout had significantly weakened the link between hospitalisations and deaths, but crucially the link wasn’t broken like the Government had previously claimed.
By the Government’s own admission cases could reach 100,000 in the winter. A damning report by MPs stated that the Government could have saved thousands of lives by locking down quicker in the early stages of the pandemic. The Government claimed lessons have been learnt, but are we once again sleep walking into another lockdown?
The British Medical Association (BMA) has accused the Government of being “wilfully negligent” for not reimposing measures such as mandatory face masks and many others have called on the Government to take decisive action now to stop cases and deaths rising further.
The Government, for its part, published it’s Covid “plan B” back in September – which was a series of precautionary measures that would be introduced if a surge in cases threatened to overwhelm the NHS. These measures would include introducing mandatory vaccine certification in specific settings; bringing back the legal requirement to wear face-coverings in some settings; and advising people to work from home if they are able to. Stricter economic and social restrictions such as lockdowns would only be considered as a “last resort”.
The Government, however, has been clear that they do not feel the current situation merits implementing plan B and that its current plan to offer booster jabs to 30 million people and single vaccine doses to healthy 12-15 year olds is sufficient.
The Prime Minister is so far resisting calls to implement plan B. Keir Starmer, in his usual decisiveness, stated that whilst the current plan was “failing” that switching to plan B was not the right way forward. So what should be done? Does anything need to be done? Throughout the pandemic the Government has consistently rebutted calls for action when cases start to rise, only to later take action when many thought it was too late. Let’s hope this time is different.