Vaccine passports and mask mandates aren’t in the main parts of the UK government’s COVID-19 winter plan, but are being kept as part of a contingency plan in case the National Health Service risks “unsustainable pressure,” according to the government announcement.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid on Sept. 14 announced the government’s autumn and winter plan (pdf) for England to manage the CCP virus pandemic and other seasonal illnesses such as influenza. Javid spoke in Parliament ahead of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s scheduled televised briefing in the evening.
The plan involves boosting CCP virus and flu vaccinations, other treatments for COVID-19, testing and tracing, investment into the NHS, advising people on voluntary measures, border control, and helping vaccinate the world.
But more government mandates will be reintroduced if “Plan A is not sufficient to keep the virus at manageable levels.”
Under plan A, the government will offer one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to all 12- to 15-year-olds. It will also offer a booster shot of a COVID-19 vaccine to care home residents and workers, over 50s, and people over 16 years old with underlying health conditions. The government is also seeking to maximize uptake of the vaccine among those who are eligible but haven’t yet taken up the offer.
Further doses of CCP virus vaccines—possibly annual vaccination—may be offered in the future if the government is advised to do so.
Javid also promised “the largest-ever flu vaccination campaign this country has ever seen” over the coming months.
A number of antivirals and therapeutics will also be used in COVID-19 treatments.
Besides the pharmaceutical interventions, those who have COVID-19 symptoms or test positive for the CCP virus will still be required to self-isolate for 10 days.
The health secretary said free PCR tests will remain available for those who have COVID-19 symptoms and contacts of those who test positive, and symptomatic testing will also continue “with a focus on those who are not fully vaccinated, perhaps those in education, or in other higher-risk settings.”
According to the government, the Coronavirus Act continues to support the NHS in retaining emergency staff, enables statutory sick pay to support self-isolation.
When asked if local authorities have sufficient funds to pay isolation payments, Javid told Parliament that much of a “huge amount of funding” is going toward essential workers.
All legal restrictions in England including limits on social interactions, mandatory masks, social distancing, and forced closure of businesses were scrapped on July 19. A plan to mandate vaccine passports in nightclubs and other crowded venues from late September has also been shelved.
The government said it will keep advising people on how to reduce the transmission of the CCP virus and other seasonal viruses, such as good ventilation and wearing masks in enclosed and crowded places where it’s likely to meet unfamiliar people.
However, it didn’t rule out bringing back mask mandates and introducing vaccine passports in certain settings.
When ministers decide there’s a significant rise in hospitalizations that would risk overwhelming the NHS, a plan B will be triggered.
In the case of plan B, mask mandates will be reintroduced for some settings, with the precise settings to be decided at the time, the government said.
A mandatory “vaccine-only” CCP virus passport will also be required for all nightclubs, indoor crowded settings with 500 or more attendees, outdoor crowded settings with 4,000 or more attendees, and any settings with 10,000 or more attendees. A negative test or proof of natural immunity won’t be accepted.
Currently, the government has been encouraging the voluntary use of COVID status certification and the NHS COVID Pass, which accepts proof of full vaccination, negative test, or previous infections.
The requirement for mandatory vaccine passports can be imposed on short notice, the government said, adding that it will try to give businesses at least one week’s notice.
Communal worship, wedding ceremonies, funerals, and other commemorative events, protests, and mass participation sporting events will be exempt from the vaccine passports mandate.
As part of the third six-month review of the Coronavirus Act due in September, the government said it’s committed to returning some of the emergency powers the act had granted to the government in England.
The powers that are “no longer necessary” include powers to close down sectors of the economy, apply restrictions on events and gatherings, disrupt education and child care, extend time limits for urgent warrants, or detain infectious people.
But the government intends to keep the powers to impose legal requirements to self-isolate on positive cases and unvaccinated close contacts, to enable local authorities to respond to serious and imminent public health threats, and to impose testing and quarantine requirements on arrivals in England until the next review due in March next year.