The government has published the ‘COVID-19 Response - Autumn and Winter Plan 2021’ setting out plans for autumn and winter 2021/22 in England.
Data continues to show that the link between cases, hospitalisations, and deaths has weakened significantly since the start of the pandemic.
This has been thanks to the success of the UK’s vaccine programme. As of 9 September, more than 92 million doses of the vaccine have been given across the UK.6 The vaccines are highly effective against the Delta variant, providing around 95% protection against severe disease.
Over autumn and winter, the government will aim to sustain the progress made and prepare the country for future challenges, while ensuring the National Health Service (NHS) does not come under unsustainable pressure. The government plans to achieve this by:
Building our defences through pharmaceutical interventions: vaccines, antivirals and disease modifying therapeutics.
Identifying and isolating positive cases to limit transmission: Test, Trace and Isolate.
Supporting the NHS and social care: managing pressures and recovering services.
Advising people on how to protect themselves and others: clear guidance and communications.
Pursuing an international approach: helping to vaccinate the world and managing risks at the border.
This is the Government’s Plan A – a comprehensive approach designed to steer the country through autumn and winter 2021-22. However, the last 18 months have shown the pandemic can change course rapidly and unexpectedly and it remains hard to predict with certainty what will happen.
This winter could be particularly difficult due to the impacts of COVID-19 on top of the usual increase in emergency demand and seasonal respiratory diseases such as influenza. It is a realistic possibility that the impact of flu (and other seasonal viruses) may be greater this winter than in a normal winter due to very low levels of flu over winter 2020-21.11
The Government will remain vigilant and monitor the data closely, taking action to support and protect the NHS when necessary. If Plan A is not sufficient to keep the virus at manageable levels, the government have also outlined a 'Plan B', which would only be enacted in England if the data suggests further measures are necessary to protect the NHS.
Further measures in Plan B could include legally mandating face masks in crowded settings, stressing the need for caution and ordering people to work from home. While vaccine passports will be shelved for now they could be introduced with a week's notice if deemed necessary for for all nightclubs, any indoor venue with more than 500 people, any outdoor settings with more than 1,000 people.