Speaking on Wednesday, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said that the government has no plans on implementing a winter lockdown, and will instead focus on increasing the uptake of vaccine booster shots. “I think the conversation about restrictions on travel, restrictions on more lockdowns is completely unhelpful,” he told Sky News, adding:
The vaccine has changed our total approach to this and has given us a measure of security that is very important. I would rule [lockdowns] out. As the Health Secretary said it’s something we’re going to have to live with and I think we are managing the situation.
While the government minister’s proclamation may bring comfort to some, Boris Johnson’s government has been consistently inconsistent on health policy during the Chinese coronavirus pandemic, including flip-flops on vaccine passports and on issues such as herd immunity. Meanwhile, the NHS confederation is already pushing for the government to opt for ‘Plan B’, including work from home orders, mask mandates. Under the published provisions for a Plan B, the government also set out the framework for implementing a domestic vaccine passport system in England, as a has already been introduced in Scotland and Wales.
The head of the NHS Confederation, Matthew Taylor told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, in comments reported by the Daily Mail, that lockdown restrictions were needed as the “health service is right at the edge” of facing collapse, a phenomenon not unknown with the socialised healthcare system even prior to the pandemic.
The risk of the NHS being overwhelmed is there. At the moment the system is working flat out and those winter pressures are going to grow. Also, health leaders need to understand what a ‘Plan C’ would entail if these measures are insufficient
Calls for the implementation of Plan B have also been raised by Professor Neil Ferguson, whose doomsday predictions at the outset of the pandemic are widely credited with ushering in lockdowns across the Western world.
The Imperial College London professor, who was forced to resign his government position after he broke his own lockdown recommendations to visit his quarantined married lover, said on Tuesday that “there may be a Plan B which needs to be implemented, which involves some rolling back of measures”. Fergusson was later quietly rehired by the government in an advisory role, with his advice prompting Prime Minister to cancel Christmas celebrations across much of England last year, despite previously promising Britons a respite from restrictions.
The pre-emptive push from the NHS, while COVID deaths are still relatively low, has been criticised, including from Tory MP Steve Baker, who said on Wednesday: “We cannot allow the liberties of the people of this country to be a tool of NHS capacity management.” Conservative MP and member of the Common’s Health and Social Care Committee, Paul Bristow warned that locking down for the NHS during the winter would set a precident which could be replicated every year
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