The government is being “wilfully negligent” by refusing to enforce its Plan B strategy for tackling rising COVID infections, doctors have claimed.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed yesterday that additional coronavirus restrictions – which could include face coverings becoming mandatory in some public places – are not going to be introduced in England.
But the British Medical Association has warned that Plan B needs to be activated now, with rising infection rates putting the NHS under pressure.
BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul added: “By the health secretary’s own admission we could soon see 100,000 cases a day, and we now have the same number of weekly COVID deaths as we had during March, when the country was in lockdown.
“It is therefore incredibly concerning that he is not willing to take immediate action to save lives and protect the NHS.”
Under Plan B, people could also be urged to work from home once again – and vaccine passports could be introduced in certain venues.
Dr Nagpaul claimed the government has “taken its foot off the brake, giving the impression that the pandemic is behind us and that life has returned to normal”.
By contrast, the doctor warned that COVID-19 infections, hospital admissions and deaths are currently at an “unacceptable” level that is “unheard of in similar European nations”.
He said: “It is wilfully negligent of the Westminster government not to be taking any further action to reduce the spread of infection, such as mandatory mask wearing, physical distancing and ventilation requirements in high-risk settings, particularly indoor crowded spaces.
“These are measures that are the norm in many other nations.”
During a Downing Street news conference yesterday, Mr Javid said the UK could see 100,000 coronavirus cases a day – and he stressed that the pandemic is “not over”.
“We must all remember that this virus will be with us for the long term and remains a threat to our loved ones, and a threat to the progress that we’ve made in getting our nation closer to normal life,” he added.
On Wednesday, the UK recorded 49,139 new COVID-19 cases – the eighth day in a row that infections have been above 40,000 – and 179 deaths within 28 days of a positive test.
Mr Javid said current COVID deaths “remain mercifully low” – an assertion later questioned by one SAGE scientist – and the health secretary added he does not believe the current pressures on the NHS are “unsustainable”.
While he said that Plan B won’t be introduced in England at this point, the health secretary added: “We’ll be staying vigilant, preparing for all eventualities, while strengthening our vital defences that can help us fight back against this virus.”
He went on to encourage Britons to meet others outdoors where possible, voluntarily wear masks in crowded spaces, take regular lateral flow tests, and receive a booster coronavirus vaccine if they are eligible for one.
“If we all play our part, then we can give ourselves the best possible chance in this race, get through this winter, and enjoy Christmas with our loved ones,” Mr Javid said.
Dr Jenny Harries, the chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, said the UK is going into the colder months with a “really high level” of COVID cases.
She added: “What we can see is that the cases now are almost as high as they were in July and actually not far off where they were last winter. What we are not seeing is that dip down again at the other side of the peak.”
Dr Harries went on to say: “Fortunately, that is not currently working through into serious disease and deaths.”
In other developments, Tony Blair is calling on ministers to set a target of delivering 500,000 coronavirus boosters per day.
The former prime minister said the government needs to act “rapidly and decisively” to avoid the need for another lockdown.
His think tank, the Tony Blair Institute, has made 12 key recommendations for cutting the spread of COVID-19.
They include setting a target of vaccinating 50% of 12 to 15-year-olds by 1 December, approving jabs for under 12s as a priority, providing clear guidance on vaccines for pregnant women, and ensuring NHS lateral flow tests remain free and readily available until the pandemic is over.