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Thursday, September 16, 2021

Spectre of winter lockdown returns as Boris Johnson puts the public on alert

Casting back to this time last September, as children returned to school and the weather worsened, Mr Johnson warned that “in one way our position today is actually more challenging”, as daily case figures were thousands higher now.

However, he acknowledged that in many other crucial respects the nation was “incomparably better placed to fight the disease” on account of the mass vaccination programme.

Concluding that Covid-19 was “still out there” and “sadly still remains a risk”, the Prime Minister insisted it was “just not sensible” to rule out options like mandatory vaccine passports.

Under the Cabinet Office blueprint, the passports would only certify the double vaccinated, removing the current option to produce a negative test or prove natural immunity through antibodies.

Plan B restrictions

The Government said that under “Plan B” they would be introduced for nightclubs, indoor venues with 500 or more attendees, or outdoor venues with 4,000 or more people, although a wider rollout was not ruled out.

Highlighting that 200 venues and events had already introduced Covid-19 certification voluntarily, Mr Johnson framed vaccine passports as a “game changer” and an “important part of our repertoire” that could help businesses remain open instead of being shut down again if Covid-19 surges.

Hospitality backlash

The announcement provoked a furious backlash from the hospitality industry. 

Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of UKHospitality, cautioned that the Plan B measures would have a “significant and drastic impacts on the sector”, which had been “hit hardest” by previous lockdowns.

She derided vaccine passports as “logistically unworkable and with questionable effectiveness”, and said they would have a “devastating effect” on nightclubs and large-scale events.

The return of guidance for people to work from home orders would also have a “significant impact” on our city and town centres, Ms Nicholls said.

Under Plan B, masks would return as a legal requirement, with the Government deciding which settings would be included nearer the time.

The Cabinet Office blueprint acknowledged that reintroducing the guidance to work from home would cause more disruption and hit the economy and some businesses harder than the other Plan B interventions, so “a final decision would be made based on the data at the time”.

Prof Whitty said the absolute numbers going into hospital, a “very rapid increase” in the rate, and the overall state of the NHS would be factors influencing a move to tougher restrictions, however. 

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