Doctors have accused ministers of being “wilfully negligent” after the Health Secretary ruled out immediately implementing the Government’s coronavirus “Plan B”.
Sajid Javid said people must get their Covid-19 vaccines and any booster shots, as well as doing things like wearing masks in crowded places as he repeated a warning that cases could reach 100,000 a day as the country enters a challenging winter period.
But he said the Government will not be implementing its “Plan B” strategy “at this point”.
England’s autumn and winter coronavirus strategy includes “Plan B” as a contingency measure if the NHS comes under unsustainable pressure.
That could include legally mandating face coverings in some settings, introducing mandatory vaccine-only Covid-status certification and asking people to work from home.
BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: “The Westminster Government said it would enact ‘Plan B’ to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed; as doctors working on the frontline, we can categorically say that time is now.
“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 to protect the NHS.”
Dr Nagpaul said 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”.
He said the reality of the situation is an “unacceptable” rate of infections, hospital admissions and deaths, which he said are “unheard of in similar European nations”.
Dr Nagpaul added: “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.”
Meanwhile, former chief scientific adviser Professor Sir Mark Walport said the current restrictions against coronavirus are probably “not holding things”.
He told BBC Newsnight: “Am I worried? Yes. It’s very, very delicately poised. We’ve got a lot of cases at the moment.
“Winter is coming, flu is probably coming. It’s not a good place to be. The evidence is that the current measures are probably not holding things.”
At a Downing Street briefing on Wednesday, Mr Javid said the UK was seeing “greater pressure” on the NHS but the Government will “do what it takes to make sure that this pressure doesn’t become unsustainable, and that we don’t allow the NHS to become overwhelmed”.
Deaths “remain mercifully low” at the moment, he said, but added: “We’ve always known that the winter months would pose the greatest threat to our road to recovery.”
Mr Javid also said that if people do not get vaccinated and fail to make behavioural changes then it is more likely that restrictions will return.
“Am I saying that if we don’t do our bit, get vaccinated, all those behavioural changes that we can make, that we are more likely to face restrictions as we head into winter…? Then I am saying that.
“I think we’ve been really clear that we’ve all got a role to play.
“If not enough people get their booster jabs, if not enough of those people that were eligible for the original offer, the five million I’ve talked about that remain unvaccinated, if they don’t come forward, if people don’t wear masks when they really should in a really crowded place with lots of people that they don’t normally hang out with, if they’re not washing their hands and stuff, it’s going to hit us all.
“And it would of course make it more likely we’re going to have more restrictions. Now we want to avoid those.
“We’ve set out what those restrictions might look like, we’ve set out the Plan B restrictions for example, and we all want to avoid those.
“So we’ve all got a role to play. We can do it, because we’ve already done it… And so, if you’re invited for a vaccination then please take it up. Please, please.
“We’ve got plenty of vaccines, and we just need people to come forward and play their part to help us to keep defeating this virus and going ahead and getting more and more back to normal each day.”
Mr Javid urged people to have their vaccines, including Covid boosters and jabs for flu.
As of 9am on Wednesday, there had been a further 49,139 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases in the UK.
Meanwhile a further 179 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Wednesday, according to Government figures.
Hospital admissions stand at 868 on average per day over the last seven days, up from 780 a week earlier, a rise of 11%.