Ministers must immediately enforce “Plan B” coronavirus restrictions or “risk stumbling into a winter crisis”, an NHS leader has warned.
Amid rising Covid-19 cases, Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, has urged the Government to implement the back-up strategy which involves measures including bringing back mandatory face coverings in public places.
The NHS Confederation’s warning comes as coronavirus deaths in the UK rose to their highest daily level since early March, while cases are at their highest for almost three months.
Downing Street said it was keeping a “very close eye” on rising case rates, but added the Prime Minister has “absolutely no plan to introduce Plan B”, which could also involve introducing vaccine passports for nightclub entry.
The NHS Confederation is the membership organisation that brings together, supports and speaks for the whole healthcare system in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Mr Taylor said the NHS is preparing for what could be “the most challenging winter on record” and urged the public to “show extra support for the NHS” by “behaving in ways that will keep themselves and others safe”.
He added: “It is time for the Government to enact Plan B of its strategy without delay because without pre-emptive action, we risk stumbling into a winter crisis.
“Also, health leaders need to understand what a ‘Plan C’ would entail if these measures are insufficient.
“The Government should not wait for Covid infections to rocket and for NHS pressures to be sky high before the panic alarm is sounded.”
Mr Taylor said if the Government “fails to get a grip” on rising coronavirus cases, the nation’s recovery from the pandemic could be “put at risk”.
On Tuesday, the Government said a further 223 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 – bringing the UK total to 138,852.
While the numbers are often higher on Tuesdays because of a lag in reporting deaths and cases over the weekend, this is the highest figure for daily reported deaths since March 9.
Meanwhile, the seven-day average for cases is standing at 44,145 cases per day – the highest level for almost three months.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman has previously said Plan B would only be used if there was a “significant risk of the NHS being overwhelmed”.
The spokesman said: “There are a number of different factors that would play into that decision.
“Largely it would be required when there was a significant risk of the NHS being overwhelmed.
“We are not at that point. Because of the vaccination programme, the levels we are seeing in both patients admitted to hospital and deaths are far lower than we saw in previous peaks.”
On Tuesday, Professor Neil Ferguson, a leading member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said he thinks “Plan B” could be implemented in England this winter, but it is unlikely “we’ll ever get close” to the lockdown the country experienced in January.
He added that the UK is no longer in the top rank of European countries in terms of overall vaccination coverage, particularly in vaccinating teenagers.
The UK now has one of the highest weekly rates of new reported cases in the world.
Just over 67% of the UK population has received two doses of vaccine, according to Government figures – compared with at least 75% in Denmark, 79% in Spain and 86% in Portugal.
The weekly rate of new reported cases of Covid-19 in the UK has jumped from 367 cases per 100,000 people at the start of October to its current level of 463 per 100,000.
By contrast, rates have dropped to very low levels in neighbouring countries such as Spain (24 per 100,000), France (48) and Germany (80).