Doctors have accused ministers of being “wilfully negligent” after the Health Secretary ruled out immediately implementing the Government’s coronavirus Plan B.
It comes amid soaring infections and concern over a new variant, both of which led NHS leaders yesterday (20 October) to urge the Government to reintroduce stricter Covid rules.
Speaking at a Covid-19 news conference yesterday, the Sajid Javid said people must get their Covid-19 vaccines and any booster shots, as well as doing things like wearing masks in crowded places.
Mr Javid warned cases could reach 100,000 a day as the country enters a challenging winter period.
But he said the Government would not be implementing its Plan B strategy - for when the NHS comes under unsustainable pressure - “at this point”.
BMA criticises Government
Responding to the Government’s stance, the British Medical Association (BMA) council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: “The Westminster Government said it would enact Plan B to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed; as doctors working on the frontline, we can categorically say that time is now.
“By the Health Secretary’s own admission we could soon see 100,000 cases a day and we now have the same number of weekly Covid deaths as we had during March, when the country was in lockdown.
“It is therefore incredibly concerning that he is not willing to take immediate action to save lives and to protect the NHS.”
Dr Nagpaul added that he believed the Government had “taken its foot off the brake, giving the impression that the pandemic is behind us and that life has returned to normal”.
He said: “It is wilfully negligent of the Westminster Government not to be taking any further action to reduce the spread of infection, such as mandatory mask wearing, physical distancing and ventilation requirements in high-risk settings, particularly indoor crowded spaces.
“These are measures that are the norm in many other nations.”
Dr Nagpaul’s comments were echoed by former chief scientific adviser Professor Sir Mark Walport, who told BBC’s Newsnight programme that the current restrictions against coronavirus are probably “not holding things”.
He told BBC Newsnight: “Am I worried? Yes. It’s very, very delicately poised. We’ve got a lot of cases at the moment.
“Winter is coming, flu is probably coming. It’s not a good place to be. The evidence is that the current measures are probably not holding things.”
Responding to the criticisms, a Government spokesperson said: “We always knew the coming months would be challenging, which is why we set out our plan for Autumn and Winter last month.
“The vaccination programme has significantly weakened the link between cases, hospitalisations and deaths and will continue to be our first line of defence against COVID-19.
“We encourage those who are eligible for a booster jab to come forward to ensure they have this vital extra protection as we approach winter.”
What is the Government’s Plan B strategy?
The Government’s Plan B strategy was included in its Covid Winter Strategy, which was launched by the Prime Minister Boris Johnson in September.
Plan A of the strategy has already been implemented and focuses on continuing with the vaccine rollout, moving forward with the booster jab programme, and encouraging those who have not yet received any doses of the Covid vaccine to receive it.
It also encourages people to get a flu jab.
Should this plan lead to a point where the NHS is put under unsustainable pressure, the Government can turn to Plan B.
Under this plan, England could see face coverings become legally mandatory in some settings, the introduction of mandatory vaccine-only Covid-status certification and a return to working from home.