Covid surge expected: What's the government's winter plan to avoid more lockdowns?

 Covid in winter, PA
Last winter was chaotic for Britons, with the government imposing ever-changing restrictions - it wants this year to be different. Credit: PA

Coronavirus cases in the UK are currently higher than the levels of last Christmas when Boris Johnson ordered an emergency tightening of restrictions.

And the curve of daily infections shows Covid-19 transmission is increasing - but the government is keen to avoid the chaos of last year.

Vaccines have reduced the correlation between coronavirus cases and deaths, but, as ministers say, the link has not been severed.

A further 61 deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid test and 30,825 lab-confirmed cases were recorded in the 24 hours to 9am on Monday.

Last week, a government scientist told the i newspaper the UK is set to enter “an extended peak” of infections.

What can we expect from the government's winter plan?

On Tuesday, the government will give details on how it intends to deal with and tackle Covid over the coming autumn and winter months.

So what is the government's plan to stop deaths and cases spiralling out of control, without imposing another devastating lockdown?

Booster jabs

The government has confirmed that it intends to press ahead with rolling out a campaign of booster jabs to provide the vulnerable with additional protection against coronavirus, before the end of this month.

On Monday, Boris Johnson confirmed: “That’s going ahead, that’s already been approved and I think that’s a good thing."

The plan was confirmed after evidence showed immunity provided by Covid vaccines does wane after time, particularly in the more vulnerable.

Details of the programme will be laid out at a Downing Street conference on Tuesday after confirmation that ministers had received the awaited final advice on the issue from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

The government is awaiting advice from the JCVI before ruling on who should get a booster jab. Credit: PA

It is expected all over 50s will be offered a third jab – starting with the over 70s and the most vulnerable.

The shot of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will be administered at least six months after the second dose amid concerns the protection it gives to older people fades over time.

Speaking on Sky News on Sunday, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said he still expects the Covid-19 booster vaccination programme will begin "on schedule this month".

Earlier this month, it was announced people aged 12 and over who have a severely weakened immune system will be offered a third coronavirus vaccine.

Jabs for children age 12 to 15

Children aged 12 to 15 in England are to be offered one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine from the end of September from as early as next week, Sajid Javid has said.

The announcement comes after the UK's four chief medical officers advised the government that all of the young teens should be offered the jab in order to reduce disruption in schools.

The vaccine will be offered to children aged 12 to 15, with their parent's consent, from the second to last week of September. Credit: PA

Confirming the health secretary's announcement, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told the Commons on Monday evening: “As with all vaccinations for children, parental consent will be sought. The consent process will be handled by each school in their usual way and will provide sufficient time for parents to provide their consent".

The chief medical officers acknowledged vaccinating children had marginal health benefits but that was still better than no benefit.

In their advice to the government, they said they were recommending vaccines on “public health grounds” and it was “likely vaccination will help reduce transmission of Covid-19 in schools”.

Flu vaccines

This year is expected to be the first in which the "seasonal influenza virus (and other respiratory viruses) will co-circulate alongside Covid-19", the government has said.

Flu levels last year were extremely low due to mask-wearing, physical and social distancing, and restricted international travel.

But in a bad year, flu has the potential to kill up to 25,000 people in the UK.

The government says the magnitude of winter Covid and flu waves is "currently unknown", but warned "mathematical modelling indicates the 2021 to 2022 influenza season in the UK could be up to 50% larger than typically seen".

In a bid to protect the NHS, the government wants everyone who is eligible to get a flu jab.

Last year's flu jab programme was the most successful ever, with 80.9% of over 65 years vaccinated. Credit: PA

Those eligible include all children aged 2 to 15 (but not 16 years or older) , those in clinical risk groups aged between six months and 50 years, pregnant women, all over 50s, those in long-stay residential care homes , carers , close contacts of immunocompromised individuals and frontline health staff.

Trials are currently underway to ascertain whether Covid booster jabs can be administered at the same time as flu jabs.

Early supports the delivery of both vaccines at the same time where appropriate, the government has said.

Protect care homes

From November 11 it will be compulsory that anyone who works in a care home must be fully vaccinated against coronavirus.

Nursing homes were perhaps the biggest victims of the pandemic's early stages, with the virus sweeping through care settings and killing thousands.

Measures brought in to protect care homes last year, such as visits being banned or restricted, were devastating for residents.

Improved Covid testing means residents can now have regular visitors, with vaccines giving additional protection to the vulnerable.

Vaccines and testing have reduced the coronavirus risk to care home residents. Credit: PA

Any care home worker who refuses to get vaccinated could lose their job, unless they're exempt.

The government has estimated that up to 7% of the care home workforce - around 40,000 staff - may refuse a jab.

Vaccines could also be made compulsory for all NHS workers after the government started a consultation process on Thursday, with a final decision expected this winter.

Working from home

Guidance to work from home is likely to be retained.

Asked on Monday about maintaining the work-from-home advice, Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said some regulations may still be needed as the NHS prepares to battle both Covid and seasonal flu in the winter months.

She told BBC Breakfast of the need to keep some rules on the table, adding: “Whether that’s with what you just mentioned or making sure statutory sick pay can be paid from day one rather than day four, as tends to happen in more regular times.

“These are the sensible measures I think that we’re going to keep.”

Will masks and working from home advice return?

It had been reported that masks in public places and work-from-home advice could be brought back, but the government is thought to want to keep these in their arsenal.

Some Covid powers will be got rid of

Mr Johnson is expected to repeal parts of the Coronavirus Act as he sets out the government’s plans on Tuesday.

The powers which are thought to no longer be necessary and are expected to be repealed under the Coronavirus Act include:

  • Allowing the closing down of the economy

  • The imposing of restrictions on events and gatherings

  • The power to temporarily close or restrict access to school

  • Powers to detain infectious people.

Covid passports

Covid-19 vaccine passports to gain access to nightclubs and other crowded venues in England "will not be going ahead", the health secretary has said.

Plans had been announced that members of the public would be required to show proof they have had two doses of a coronavirus vaccine in order to gain entry to large-scale events, but in a U-turn on Sunday, following a backlash from Tory MPs, Mr Javid said the idea had been scrapped.

He told BBC's The Andrew Marr Show: "I've never liked the idea of saying to people you must show your papers or something to do what is just an everyday activity, but we were right to properly look at it.

"We've looked at it properly and whilst we should keep it in reserve as a potential option, I'm pleased to say that we will not be going ahead with plans for vaccine passports."

Yet just one day later, Ms Coffey said vaccine passports had not been “ruled out forever”.

She said: “As Sajid Javid set out yesterday, although the formal decision is still to be made, but having reflected and looked at the details of the proposal that it’s not deemed necessary at this moment in time.

“But they haven’t been ruled out forever. It’s reflecting the fact that a lot of young people have come forward and got their vaccinations over the summer.”

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