Professors call for ‘some kind’ of COVID Plan B with emergency departments in ‘terrible place’

UK

Health leaders have urged the government to introduce “some kind of Plan B” with emergency departments in a “terrible place” amid rising levels of coronavirus infections.

Dr Katherine Henderson, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, warned ministers that hospitals are “already struggling to cope” and that medical professionals are worried about the winter months ahead.

Meanwhile, Professor Adam Finn, who is on the Joint Committee of Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), told Sky News’ Trevor Phillips on Sunday that COVID-19 hospital admissions and deaths are rising and the government must not be “complacent”.

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Shoppers wearing face masks on Oxford Street, in central London, as the Department of Health and Social Care is calling upon eligible people to get their covid-19 booster vaccinations. Picture date: Friday October 22, 2021.
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Plan B would see the return of face masks in some settings

Prof Finn added that vaccines are not going to be enough to keep the spread of coronavirus under control and said people need to make an effort to avoid contact in order to slow transmission rates.

Their comments come as the government faces increasing pressure to enact what is known as “Plan B”, which includes working from home guidance and the mandatory use of face masks in some settings.

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Health Secretary Sajid Javid said this week that new cases could reach 100,000 a day, but Downing Street insisted there was spare capacity in the NHS and that the fall-back Plan B would only be triggered if it came under “significant pressure”.

Mr Javid said the focus was on delivering the booster jab programme successfully.

Earlier this week, it was announced that the former head of England’s coronavirus vaccine delivery drive is returning to the NHS to lead the booster rollout, amid growing concerns about COVID-19’s impact this winter.

Scientific advisers have told the government preparations for Plan B restrictions should be made now so that measures “can be ready for rapid deployment if required”.

NHS workers walk next to a cue of ambulances outside the Royal London Hospital, in London, Britain January 12, 2021. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
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Prof Finn said vaccines alone will not combat rising infection rates at present

Experts on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) also said, in minutes of a meeting published on Friday, that early intervention “would reduce the need for more stringent, disruptive, and longer-lasting measures”.

Speaking to Sky News’ Trevor Phillips on Sunday, Dr Henderson said: “Every bed that gets filled by a patient with COVID in a sense is in a hospital bed with a potentially avoidable disease.

“The problem is that things are worse at the moment so we need everybody to be as careful with the healthcare resources as they possibly can be, and try and minimise the need for healthcare resources.”

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Dr Henderson continued: “So if we can get COVID levels down, if we can make sure that the vulnerable don’t get infected and then need hospital care, if we can make sure that we don’t have people who are severely ill because they catch it when they’re unvaccinated, all of that will help, we’re all in this together to try and make it better.”

Prof Finn called for “a very different kind of message coming from the government now that there is a serious problem”.

He told Sky News’ Trevor Phillips on Sunday that he wants to “avoid lockdowns”, but added that “we can’t avoid it if we all just go back to normal now”.

Doctor Abhi Mantgani administers a Covid-19 vaccine booster to Shirley Davies at Birkenhead Medical Building in Birkenhead, Merseyside. Picture date: Saturday October 23, 2021.
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Health Secretary Sajid Javid has said the government is focusing on rolling out its booster jab programme

On vaccines, Prof Finn said “they’re not by themselves going to be enough at the present time to keep the spread of the virus under control”, adding: “We do need to see people continuing to make efforts to avoid contact, to avoid transmission, and to do other things as well as get vaccinated if we’re going to stop this rise from going up further.”

The warnings from health professionals came as Labour’s shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves suggested the government should look at implementing Plan B.

“Labour as a responsible opposition have always said that we would follow the science, and we’ve seen today that SAGE are saying that some aspects of Plan B, like wearing masks on public transport and in shops, and also working from home more flexibly should be introduced,” she told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

EMBARGOED TO 0001 FRIDAY APRIL 9 File photo dated 04/03/20 of a woman using a laptop on a dining room table set up as a remote office to work from home. Fewer than one in seven leaders in some of the UK's biggest companies have said they expect a full-time return to offices by the end of this year, according to a new survey. Issue date: Friday April 9, 2021.
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Some scientists have suggested work from home guidance should be implemented once more

“I think the first thing is, the government have got to do more to make Plan A work. If the scientists are saying work from home and masks, we should do that. So get A working better because the vaccination programme has been stalling, introduce those parts of Plan B.”

Meanwhile, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said on Sunday that a return of the furlough scheme is “not on the cards”, adding that the vaccine rollout is the “best line of defence against having to move to put in place any restrictions”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said there are no plans for another lockdown and that “vaccines are our way through this winter”.

The latest data released on 23 October showed that the UK had recorded a further 180 COVID-related deaths and 49,298 in a 24-hour period.

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