Covid Plan B is needed now to stop NHS 'winter meltdown': scientists

Covid Plan B needed now to stop ‘winter meltdown’ and reimposing face masks and WFH won’t be problematic, No10 advisers say… but Sajid Javid insists Christmas WILL be ‘safe’ even without fresh restrictions ‘because cases should slump to just 5,000-a-day’

  • No10 advisers warned current case rate ‘unacceptable’ as they called for curbs
  • Plan B would be prudent and non-disruptive safeguard in winter, they claimed
  • Comes despite growing optimism in Government that epidemic is due to shrink 

Social distancing and masks need to be reimposed to avoid a ‘meltdown in the middle of winter’ and save Christmas, several Government scientists warned today.

They said the current infection rate was ‘unacceptable’ and claimed that vaccines alone were not enough to control Covid during the colder months.

It comes despite growing optimism among No10’s modellers who say daily cases could plummet to just 5,000 next month due to growing natural immunity and booster jabs.

But Professor Peter Openshaw, a member of an influential subcommittee of SAGE, said enacting ‘Plan B’ now would be a ‘sensible’ safeguard that’s ‘not very disruptive’.

Professor Adam Finn, who advises ministers on Covid jabs, went a step further, claiming compulsory masks and other curbs were needed ‘to get things under control’.

But Health Secretary Sajid Javid has promised a ‘normal Christmas’ this year as long as over-50s and vulnerable Britons get their booster vaccines.

During a round of interviews this morning: ‘The facts right now are that we don’t think the data requires us to move to Plan B.’

Ministers have taken confidence from unusually optimistic SAGE modelling, which estimates the epidemic will shrink or stay well below pervious waves this winter.

The Government’s winter contingency plans include bringing back masks and working from home. A lockdown has been described as an absolute ‘last resort’

Calls for Plan B come after No10’s modellers estimated daily cases could plummet to just 5,000 next month due to growing natural immunity and booster jabs. These charts show the impact of returning to normal level of social mixing in three months (bottom) versus remaining cautious for a year – and the impact this would have on infections (left), admissions (middle) and deaths (right). The models show cases plummeting by November in both scenarios thanks to natural immunity but rising in spring (bottom) when vaccine protection is expected to wane

Professor Peter Openshaw (left), a member of an influential subcommittee of SAGE , said enacting ‘Plan B’ now would be a ‘sensible’ safeguard that’s ‘not very disruptive’. Professor Adam Finn (right), who advises ministers on Covid jabs, went a step further, claiming compulsory masks and other curbs were needed ‘to get things under control’

Professor Openshaw, who sits on the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said it would be prudent to go with Plan B now. 

He told BBC’s Radio 4 Today Programme: ‘I don’t think it’s a binary go for Plan B or nothing, it’s very clear that the measures that are in included in Plan B are sensible and not very disruptive

‘It’s not problematic to give clear leadership about the use of face masks, and working at home if you can is also not particularly disruptive for many people.

‘Those measures are likely to lead to a pretty good reduction in the really unacceptable number of cases that we’ve got at the moment.

‘To my mind, the introduction of vaccine passports is also fine – it’s been accepted very easily in most other western European countries.

‘It’s very sensible, if you were going into a crowded indoor space and knew everyone there had been fully vaccinated and perhaps had had a rapid test on the day, you’d feel much more secure about going into that space.’

It comes as a record 325,000 people got their booster jab in a single day, while more than 800,000 people over three days had a third jab as queues again formed at centres across the country

Covid cases should SLUMP by around 85% to just 5,000-a-day by Christmas even WITHOUT Plan B 

Covid cases should slump in November by around 85 per cent to just 5,000 per day by Christmas even without Plan B restrictions, according to modelling seen by the Government. 

The current rise in cases is mostly being driven by children who are largely unvaccinated and because so many youngsters are getting infected, some SAGE modellers expect infections to run out of steam in soon when they achieve a higher level of natural immunity.

The October half term, which for most schools starts today, is also expected to act like a natural firebreaker and bring down case numbers. 

Ministers are understood to be refraining from introducing restrictions including compulsory facemasks, advice to work from home and domestic vaccine passports after seeing projections which show infections declining rapidly within the next few weeks. 

One model, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, suggests that cases will soon peak before falling steeply in the winter months – even without the Government’s Plan B. Other unpublished models have also shown similar drops, with experts indicating that cases could fall to around 5,000 cases a day before Christmas, The Telegraph reported.

SAGE scientist Professor John Edmunds, the chief scientist behind the LSHTM model, told the paper: ‘When we were doing the work about two weeks ago, the Health Secretary had made it very clear that the government was not planning to introduce Plan B in the near future.

‘Our model was projecting that cases would start to decline some time in the autumn. However, the model also suggests that cases may start to climb again in the spring, due to a combination of waning immunity and increased contacts.’

Professor Openshaw added: ‘What we’re facing at the moment is unacceptable we’ve got roughly one in 55 people infected, which is an astonishingly high rate compared to most other west European countries.

‘This is connected with the lack of clear messaging about sensible measures that we should all be taking in order to reduce the spread of infection.’

His comments came after Professor Finn, a member of the Joint Committee of Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), made a case for Plan B on Sunday.

Speaking to Sky News, He said that he would ‘like to re-emphasise the fact’ that the vaccine alone might not be enough to protect the NHS this winter. 

‘We do need to have people using lateral flow tests, avoiding contact with large numbers of people in enclosed spaces, using masks, all of those things now need to happen if we’re going to stop this rise and get things under control soon enough to stop a real meltdown in the middle of the winter.’

Several other SAGE-affiliated experts have publicly lobbied for the Government to move to Plan B, warning that it risks sleepwalking into another crisis.  

But the Health Secretary voiced optimism today as he said there was nothing in the Covid data to panic about yet.

Asked whether he thinks Christmas is ‘safe’, he told LBC Radio: ‘I think it is as long as we do what we all need to do, everyone’s got a role to play in this.

‘We all want a fantastic Christmas and we can ensure that by getting out there and getting our vaccines.’

Mr Javid said people taking personal precautions should be enough to see the country through winter without restrictions.

He added: ‘It’s getting darker, we can see it’s getting colder, we will spend more time indoors, and so we should think about hand hygiene, about getting tested regularly, especially if you’re going to meet your more vulnerable… perhaps an elderly relative or someone – so if we can do all that, I’m sure that we’re going to have a great Christmas.’

Mr Javid rejected call to move to Plan B now, adding: ‘The facts right now are that we don’t think the data requires us to move to Plan B. 

‘I think it’s right and proper that we set out what those contingency measures… what Plan B would look like and the criteria (on) whether we move or not, but, right here and now, it remains the right plan, but again, I couldn’t appeal more strongly to people to play their part in Plan A, and top of the list, as I say, are the vaccines.’

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Mr Javid doubled down on his promise of a ‘normal Christmas’.

‘For all those people like me that are hoping and planning for a normal Christmas – which I do by the way, I think that’s where we’ll be, we’ll have a normal Christmas – if we want let’s just keep playing our part,’ he said.

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