COVID-19: Plan B



15 September 2021

On the 14th September the UK government published the following document:

COVID-19 Response:  Autumn and Winter Plan 2021

The above document presents a summary of the measures still being taken to control the virus (Plan A), and also the potential measures that might need to be imposed (Plan B) by the UK and/or regional governments should the number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalisations, and deaths rise sharply in the months ahead.

Given that UK COVID-19 case numbers at the start of September are around 30 times higher than the same time last year, this scenario sadly remains a very real possibility.

So what are the differences between the two plans?

COVID-19 Plan A

Plan A is effectively a continuation of the measures currently in place across England.

Central to this plan is the continued expansion of the vaccination programme.

The vaccination programme has of course been a success for the UK, and has gone a long way towards the reopening of the national economy.  Yet, as the government report sets out, there are still some 5.5 million people aged over 16 who remain unvaccinated, and there will clearly be renewed efforts to reach these groupings.  This is something employers may wish to support, as the evidence suggests that vaccinations significantly reduce the risk of death, appear to lower the incidence of severe Long Covid conditions, and also limit the onwards transmission of the virus to others too.

Other measures still currently in play include self-testing, test and trace, and self-isolation requirements.

Whilst these measures have returned a significant degree of normality to the nation, the reality is that the return to schools, work, and socialising represent an excellent opportunity for the virus to transmit more readily in the weeks and months ahead.  And, as with last year, the autumn and winter months present a better opportunity for the virus to spread in enclosed, poorly ventilated, spaces as the cold weather arrives.

COVID-19 Plan B

So Plan B is very much needed.  Indeed the above document states;

“The Government has taken the responsible step of undertaking contingency planning in case Plan A is not sufficient to keep the virus at manageable levels. So that the public and businesses know what to expect, this document outlines a Plan B in England, which would only be enacted if the data suggests further measures are necessary to protect the NHS.”

So what new (or reintroduced) measures are in the government’s Plan B?

Firstly – and importantly – it is clear that the government has no intention of reinstating a national lockdown unless the pandemic overwhelms the nation once more.  The intention not to return to lockdowns is likely to be welcomed by all businesses, particularly as the income safety-net of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme finally concludes at the end of September.

Plan B builds on the significant protections provided to the population through COVID-19 antibodies (either from vaccinations or an earlier infection) and represents a lighter touch than some of the measures of the last 18 months, as relatively small changes in policy and behaviour can potentially have a big impact on reducing transmission.

The key measures specified for Plan B are listed below:

  • Communicating clearly and urgently to the public that the level of risk has increased, and with it the need to behave more cautiously
  • Introducing mandatory vaccine-only COCID-status certification in certain settings
  • Legally mandating face coverings in certain settings
  • Asking people to work from home if they can for a limited period

Not all these measures would necessarily be implemented, and the order might vary based on circumstances.

Timing of Plan B?

Welcome as it is to have some certainty of the potential requirements should case numbers rise sharply, there remains the question of under what circumstances these measures might be imposed by government.

At present this is not clear – and we will of course update this Blog page should that information come to light in the next few days.

However the comments of Sir Patrick Vallance, the government's chief scientific adviser, yesterday suggest that should such a decision be required, then it might be enacted very quickly indeed;

"When you make a move, you have to go earlier than you think you want to, you have to go harder than you think you want to and you have to make sure you have got the right geographical coverage."

So we would encourage employers to take note of the potential Plan B measures, and prepare to instigate them at short notice should the pandemic take a renewed hold in the months ahead.

For more information on any of the above topics, please speak to your usual Howden Consultant in the first instance, or visit our website for other contact options.  For the latest details on COVID-19 & Employee Benefits provision please visit Howden’s coronavirus hub.

Published 15/09/21

Steve Herbert

Steve Herbert

Steve is Head of Benefits Strategy, Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing, and is an award-winning thought leader on Pensions, Employee Benefits, and Human Resources issues. He is occasionally accused of making Employee Benefits interesting.

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