Pubs, shops and small businesses have blasted Boris Johnson‘s ‘Plan B’ to deal with the pandemic over the winter.
Experts said a return to working from home would cripple the economy and would come at the worst possible time when companies are getting back on their feet.
They welcomed Plan A of the document the PM outlined this evening but warned the alternative would have ‘significant and drastic impacts’.
Mr Johnson appealed to the five million people who have not taken up the offer of a Covid vaccine to get the jab in an effort to avoid tougher restrictions over the winter.
His chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said getting vaccination levels up was the key to maintaining lighter controls.
Chief medical officer for England Professor Chris Whitty launched a stinging attack on people who deliberately peddled ‘myths’ about the supposed dangers of the jab.
Earlier, Health Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed all over-50s in the UK – as well as those in other vulnerable groups – would would be offered a booster shot.
Experts said a return to working from home would cripple the economy and would come at the worst possible time when companies are getting back on their feet
They welcomed Plan A of the Winter Plan document he outlined this evening but warned the alternative would have ‘significant and drastic impacts’
But as soon as the press conference ended, business leaders were quick to slam the PM’s Plan B for the winter.
UKHospitality Chief Executive Kate Nicholls said: ‘It’s critical for the recovery of the hospitality sector and the wider economy that businesses are allowed to continue to operate in viable conditions throughout this winter.
‘Hospitality venues are still in a fragile state with significant debts, making their first steps on the road to recovery and rebuilding broken balance sheets, any setbacks over the coming months will result in more businesses closures.
‘The announcement from the Secretary of State, the continued focus on vaccination roll out and boosters, is much welcome, as their success has been critical to protecting our healthcare system while allowing for the reopening of the economy and businesses to trade without restrictions.
‘However, we must caution Government that the introduction of those measures that are left in reserve for this winter, would have significant and drastic impacts on the sector.
‘The use of vaccine passports, logistically unworkable and with questionable effectiveness, will have a devastating effect on nightclubs and large-scale events.
‘These sectors have been hit hardest and have been at the very back of the queue for reopening and such measures would severely undermine their profitability and ability to recover over the winter months.
‘Similarly, work from home orders or guidance would have a significant impact on our city and town centres, not only damaged by restrictions and enforced closures but also significantly reduced footfall.’
Mr Johnson was joined by England’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty (pictured far left), and the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance (pictured middle), at the press conference this afternoon
Alan Thomas, UK CEO at Simply Business, one of the UK’s largest providers of small business insurance, said: ‘Small business owners will be breathing a sigh of relief knowing the Prime Minister is looking to avoid any further lockdowns.
‘Another lockdown would have a devastating impact on small businesses. Half (48 per cent) of all owners live in fear of future restrictions, and thousands would be put out of business – with almost one in six (15 per cent) saying they’d have to cease trading altogether if we were placed into another lockdown.
‘Few have been hit harder by the pandemic than SMEs, who have already lost a staggering £126.6billion.
‘This financial loss is devastating to both the livelihoods and families of small business owners, but it also represents a huge blow to the UK economy – SMEs make up 99 per cent of all UK businesses and contribute trillions of pounds a year in turnover.
‘Small businesses are crucial to our collective recovery, and the government must do what they can to support them – avoiding another lockdown will be central to helping the self-employed bounce back.’
Mr Johnson said he hoped the vaccine programme meant the UK could remain ‘one of the most free societies’ in Europe with only limited restrictions.
But he stressed the Government stood ready with a ‘plan B’ for England if the disease took off again over the coming months.
He said it could include so-called vaccine passports as well as the return of face masks in public places and encouraging people to work from home.
Sir Patrick said if additional measures were required it was essential ministers acted swiftly and did not wait for the numbers to run out of control.
He said: ‘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 need to make sure you have got the right geographical coverage.
‘So, if this goes in the wrong direction and cases go up, followed by hospitalisations, it’s important that the measures are put in place early enough and they are significant enough.’
ALL over-50s will get booster Covid jabs: 32m Brits will be offered Pfizer or Moderna as health chiefs sign off on rollout
A mass Covid booster vaccine campaign for tens of millions of Britons will be launched next week in a race to avoid a winter lockdown, it was announced today.
The Government’s vaccine advisory panel finally signed off on the plans after weeks of deliberation, with third doses now being recommended for roughly 32million over-50s, as well as frontline health and care workers.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam told a Downing Street press conference that the booster programme would provide ‘very good’ immunity and help ‘keep the lid on’ the epidemic this winter.
The NHS will start inviting eligible Britons from next week. People are only being invited to come forward if they had their second injection at least six months ago, which officials said was the ‘sweet spot’ for boosters.
Third doses will be rolled out to the top nine priority groups who were first in line during the initial Covid vaccination programme, with the elderly and vulnerable first in line.
It took about four months to cover those groups with a first dose earlier this year, but officials expect the booster scheme to quicker now because the infrastructure and expertise is already in place.
Members of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) approved the plans on the back of growing real-world data in Israel and elsewhere, as well as a major British study, which showed vaccine-induced immunity wanes slightly within months.
Britons who are eligible will be given the Pfizer vaccine in the first instance, no matter which jab they were originally immunised with. When there are supply constraints, the Moderna vaccine will be offered as a booster, but only as a half dose.
Officials said there was more evidence that the mRNA vaccines were safe and effective when given as a third dose, which is why they are not recommending AstraZeneca’s. Moderna’s is being given as a half dose because the lower dosage is associated with fewer side effects and still produces a strong immune response, the JCVI said.
The announcement comes ahead of what is widely accepted will be a challenging winter for the NHS with an unusually low amount of natural immunity to flu and other respiratory viruses due to more than a year of social restrictions.
But Alastair Kerr from the Campaign for Pubs panned the idea and said Plan B would wreak the industry.
He said: ‘It is clear that the ‘Plan B’ option suggested by the PM today would be damaging for the hospitality sector across the UK.
‘The hospitality sector has suffered greatly from the economic restrictions imposed over the last year during the pandemic and it is simply unfeasible to suggest that our industry could take anymore.
‘Pubs and the wider hospitality industry has taken great steps over the past year in making their premises secure.
‘It is disappointing that the Government is suggesting imposing damaging trading restrictions including the potential return of Vaccine Passports, when they have over the past couple of days have said they wouldn’t.
‘We hope that no unfair restrictions will be placed on an already struggling sector, which needs all the support at the moment.’
Emma McClarkin, Chief Executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, said: ‘It is very welcome news for our sector that powers to close-down or apply restrictions to our pubs will be repealed.
‘Forced closure during lockdowns and unnecessary restrictions such as the 10pm curfew, rule of six and substantial meals rule have greatly damaged our sector.
‘Publicans across the country will sigh in relief knowing they have stability to keep trading over the winter months.
‘We also urge the devolved administrations to follow the approach that has been outlined today.
‘Of course, ‘Plan B’ measures suggesting working from home are concerning as they would impact the recovery of our sector – particularly city centre pubs – if implemented.
‘It is also vital covid certification continues to be ruled out for pubs under any future plans.’
Chairman of the Local Government Association Cllr James Jamieson added: ‘Covid-19 remains a serious public health threat and protecting our older and most vulnerable people is councils’ number one priority, especially as we head into what will be a challenging autumn and winter.
‘This plan could help see us through this difficult period, with contingency measures in place to help prevent the NHS from coming under unsustainable pressure.
‘It will be vital that Directors of Public Health, working in councils, should also have all the support and tools they need to respond to any local outbreaks.
‘Councils stand ready to support the NHS in the roll out of a booster vaccination programme, including using their unique local knowledge to help contact and prioritise all those who are eligible.
‘This should include making it as convenient as possible to receive a jab, such as at walk-in clinics and mass vaccination centres, in addition to GP surgeries.
‘These arrangements should be rolled out to also ensure people can receive their flu jabs at the same time, to maximise uptake and provide the best possible protection.’
Ministers were packed in the Cabinet room this morning with no masks as they were briefed on the contents of the plan
Javid slams GPs for failing to see patients face to face amid pandemic
Sajid Javid today took aim at GPs for not doing face-to-face appointments.
The Health Secretary delivered a warning that the government ‘do a lot more’ to ensure doctors go back to seeing patients in person.
The comments came after Conservative MP Dean Russell raised concerns over some GP surgeries in his Watford constituency ‘still not opening their doors’ to see patients.
‘Does he agree with me that we should encourage those GP surgeries to start opening up to help with the backlog and help see people face-to-face?’
Mr Javid replied: ‘Yes, I agree with (Mr Russell). He’s right to raise this.
‘I think everyone can understand why during the height of the pandemic that GPs couldn’t provide access in the normal way.
‘But we’re way past that now, life is starting to return almost back to completely normal and as that is happening it should be happening in our GP surgeries too, and more GPs should be offering face-to-face access.
‘We intend to do a lot more about it.’
If the country had gone into last winter – before the vaccinations were available – with the current level of restrictions, cases would, Sir Patrick said, have gone ‘through the roof’.
He said it underlined the importance of getting the vaccine to as many people as possible.
‘There are five million or so people who are eligible for vaccines now who haven’t been vaccinated,’ he said.
‘Trying to persuade those people it is the right thing to do to get vaccinated would make a significant difference.
‘The immunity is really important to keep this down and allows lighter measures to be put in place to keep it under control.’
Mr Johnson added that the ‘priority’ was to get those people vaccinated insisting that it was in their own interests to get protected.
‘It will be good for you. You are overwhelmingly more likely sadly to die or suffer serious disease if you haven’t been vaccinated,’ he said.
Mr Johnson said the Government’s plan B had ‘a number of different shots in the locker’ with which it could respond if cases started rising.
‘You wouldn’t necessarily play them all at once, far from it, you would want to do things in a graduated way,’ he said,
‘We’re now in a situation when because so many of the population have some degree of immunity, smaller changes in the way we’re asking people to behave can have a bigger impact.’
While he did not want to see vaccine passports required for entry into nightclubs and other venues, as the Government had previously proposed, he said it was ‘not sensible’ to rule it out at this stage.
‘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.’
Prof Whitty emphasised that the county was entering the autumn with a much higher level of cases, hospital admissions and deaths than was the case last year.
He said that while people were entitled to hold ‘strange beliefs’ about the vaccines, spreading false rumours about their supposed effects was putting lives at risk.
‘Many of those people, I regret to say, I think know that they are peddling untruths, but they still do it.
‘In my view, they should be ashamed,’ he said.
With the booster jab campaign due to start next week, Sir Patrick that while the vaccines’ effectiveness was generally holding up ‘very well’, there was evidence that it was fading, particularly those who were most vulnerable.
‘The waning of immunity is clear. It’s greater for infection than it is for the waning against hospitalisations and deaths, so they’re holding up very well,’ he said.
‘This is some waning. And that waning is most evident in the people who are most at risk.’
Under the booster programme, people will be offered either the Pfizer/BioNTech or the Moderna vaccine at least six months after their second dose in order to maximise the impact.
Source: Daily Mail