Boris Johnson announces Covid winter plan: What does this mean for SMEs?

Home working and mask mandates could return under 'Plan B' to protect the NHS

Boris Johnson announces Covid winter plan: What does this mean for SMEs?

Home working and mask mandates could return under ‘Plan B’ to protect the NHS

As we enter the winter months, the NHS will have to increase its capacity with an annual surge of hospital care. Now, Boris Johnson has unveiled the government’s winter plan to manage Covid-19 in England, saying people could be asked to work from home again if cases rise, while face masks could be made compulsory indoors under ‘Plan B’. How will this affect SMEs?

Health secretary Sajid Javid told the House of Commons the government wanted the country to get through winter “without the need for stringent social and economic restrictions”. The government has set out two courses of action depending on the surge of Covid-19 cases. There is Plan A – which will be used if the pandemic continues not to threaten the capacity of the NHS. But there will also be a Plan B, to be held in reserve in case the pandemic resurges. If Plan B is not required, Plan A will go ahead and the government will continue to relax restrictions and use vaccines to suppress Covid. However, Plan B can be activated if Covid data show the virus spreading rapidly through the population and threatening the NHS. Ministers would present the case for using Plan B to Parliament before it was activated. 

Sajid Javid announced Plan B will involve warning the public to be cautious, compulsory face masks in indoor settings, vaccine passports for certain settings, including nightclubs, large outdoor events and indoor events of more than 500 people, such as music concerts; outdoor settings with 4000 or more people such as festivals and any settings with 10,000 or more people, such as sports events. Businesses will be given one week’s notice to enforce the new rule. Sajid Javid told MPs: We have seen how quickly this virus can adapt and change so we have prepared a Plan B of contingency measures that we can call upon only if they are needed and supported by the data to prevent unsustainable pressure on the NHS. These measures would be communicating clearly and urgently the need for caution. Legally mandating face coverings in certain settings.” 

The Prime Minister has said the government is confident nightclubs will not have to start checking the vaccination status of customers through a Covid-19 passport scheme. Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, Boris Johnson said it might, however, be a choice between imposing vaccine passports and closing nightclubs altogether. He said: Of course I understand the frustrations of people wondering whether or not they’re going to have to put this in, (and) at the moment we’re confident that you will be able to proceed without it. The reason for wanting to have this option is because it’s a choice between proceeding with Covid-19 certification or, sadly, once again asking places to close, and I certainly don’t want to do that. That’s why I think it’s a good idea to keep this in reserve.

Emergency Covid-19 laws will be scaled back, including powers that temporarily close or restrict access to schools, detain infectious people, restrict events and gatherings or limit how large groups of people can gather. However, the ability for the government to legally enforce lockdowns will remain on the statute book. According to Number 10 sources, the Prime Minister is determined not to enforce another lockdown if Covid cases rise. However, Mr Johnson and his cabinet ministers are unlikely to categorically rule out ever adopting a lockdown again as the spread of Covid-19 can be uncertain. Lockdowns in winter will be absolutely the last resort, the vaccine minister confirmed earlier on. Vaccine Minister Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News: Lockdowns will be an absolutely last resort. What we’re trying to do at the moment is to transition this virus from pandemic to endemic through a massive vaccination programme.

The traffic light system for travelling to different countries will be scrapped, and switched to two different groups – countries where it is permitted to travel, and “red list” countries where those who return will have to quarantine in a hotel. Under the new travel system, different rules are expected for those who are double-jabbed and those who have not taken the Covid vaccine. 

Vaccinated individuals are likely only required to take lateral flow tests when returning from abroad, while those who have not taken the vaccine will require more expensive PCR tests. Travellers without a vaccine will be expected to show proof of a negative lateral flow test before boarding a flight back home and take another test on their second day back. This new travel system will decrease the cost of travel for vaccinated individuals, though details of the system are still being worked up. The number of “red list” countries will also be reduced. There will be a new framework for international travel published on October 1.

Boris Johnson is adamant about avoiding measures that will severely impact the economy, according to reports from No 10. The Prime Minister is determined to avoid another lockdown and reimpose social distancing rules, which would cause serious backlash to the hospitality industry as pubs and restaurants suffered during the three previous lockdowns. The Prime Minister said the success of the vaccine rollout gave him the confidence the country would not have to have more lockdowns.

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, Mr Johnson said he was confident in the vaccines that have made such a difference to our lives. He said: When you’ve got a large proportion, as we have now, with immunity, then smaller changes can make a bigger difference and give us the confidence that we don’t have to go back to the lockdowns of the past. However, the government may impose the wearing of masks indoors if Covid cases rise under ‘Plan B’. People may be forced to work from home if the number of cases increase and overwhelm the NHS.

Latifa Yedroudj
Latifa Yedroudj

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