COVID-19: next steps for England

On 14 September, the Westminster Government published COVID-19 Response: Autumn and Winter Plan. This 32-page document outlines the government plans for autumn and winter, which aim to sustain the progress made and prepare the country for future challenges, while ensuring the National Health Service (NHS) does not come under unsustainable pressure. Relevant extracts are reproduced below.


COVID-19 RESPONSE: AUTUMN AND WINTER PLAN

CONTENT

  1. Introduction
  2. Building our defences through pharmaceutical interventions
  3. Identifying and isolating positive cases to limit transmission
  4. Supporting the NHS and social care
  5. Advising people on how to protect themselves and others
  6. Pursuing an international approach: helping vaccinate the world and managing risks at the border
  7. Contingency planning
  8. Legislation and Reviews

INTRODUCTION

“a comprehensive approach designed to steer the country through autumn and winter 2021-22…There are a number of variables including: levels of vaccination; the extent to which immunity wanes over time; how quickly, and how widely social contact returns to pre-pandemic levels as schools return and offices reopen; and whether a new variant emerges which fundamentally changes the Government’s assessment of the risks… So that the public and businesses know what to expect, this document outlines a Plan B in England which would only be enacted if the data [suggest] further measures are necessary to protect the NHS.”

Government Plan A

6. Over autumn and winter, the Government will aim to sustain the progress made and prepare the country for future challenges, while ensuring the National Health Service (NHS) does not come under unsustainable pressure.

7. The Government plans to achieve this by:

a. Building our defences through pharmaceutical interventions: vaccines, antivirals and disease modifying therapeutics.
b. Identifying and isolating positive cases to limit transmission: Test, Trace and Isolate.
c. Supporting the NHS and social care: managing pressures and recovering services.
d. Advising people on how to protect themselves and others: clear guidance and communications.
e. Pursuing an international approach: helping to vaccinate the world and managing risks at the border.

10. …In preparation, the Government has taken the responsible step of undertaking contingency planning in case Plan A is not sufficient to keep the virus at manageable levels. So that the public and businesses know what to expect, this document outlines a Plan B in England which would only be enacted if the data [suggest] further measures are necessary to protect the NHS. The Government remains committed to doing whatever it takes to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed”

BUILDING OUR DEFENCES THROUGH PHARMACEUTICAL INTERVENTIONS

11. The Government has three priorities for the COVID-19 vaccination programme in England for the autumn and winter:

a. Maximising uptake of the vaccine among those that are eligible but have not yet taken up the offer.
b. Offering booster doses to individuals who received vaccination in Phase 1 of the COVID-19 vaccination programme (priority groups 1-9).
c. Offering a first dose of vaccine to 12-15 year olds

20. … It is possible that further doses of the COVID-19 vaccine may be offered in the future to reinforce protection. Subject to advice, this may include annual vaccination programmes – as is the case with the flu vaccination …Reformulated vaccines to target new variants of the virus and new ways of administering vaccines could play a role in future vaccination programmes.

IDENTIFYING AND ISOLATING POSITIVE CASES TO LIMIT TRANSMISSION

25. The Test, Trace, and Isolate system remains critical to the Government’s plan for managing the virus over the autumn and winter. It helps to find positive cases and make sure they and their unvaccinated contacts self-isolate, breaking chains of transmission…

26. The Government will continue to expect everyone with COVID-19 symptoms to self-isolate and take a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. The legal requirement to self-isolate for 10 days if an individual tests positive for COVID-19 will remain in place in order to prevent those who are infected from mixing in the community and passing on the virus.

27. Over autumn and winter PCR testing for those with COVID-19 symptoms will continue to be available free of charge.

33. As well as maintaining the current legal requirements for positive cases and unvaccinated contacts to self-isolate, the Government will continue to offer practical and financial support to those who are eligible and require assistance to self-isolate. The Government will review the future of these regulations as well as this support by the end of March 2022.

PURSUING AN INTERNATIONAL APPROACH: HELPING VACCINATE THE WORLD AND MANAGING RISKS AT THE BORDER

66. The Government will shortly set out a revised framework for international travel, in advance of the next formal checkpoint review, with a deadline of 1 October.

CONTINGENCY PLANNING

Plan B

75. If the data [suggest] the NHS is likely to come under unsustainable pressure, the Government has prepared a Plan B for England. The Government hopes not to have to implement Plan B, but given the uncertainty, it is setting out details now so that the public and businesses know what to expect if further measures become necessary.

77. The Government’s Plan B prioritises measures which can help control transmission of the virus while seeking to minimise economic and social impacts. This includes:

a. Communicating clearly and urgently to the public that the level of risk has increased, and with it the need to behave more cautiously.
b. Introducing mandatory vaccine-only COVID-status certification in certain settings.
c. Legally mandating face coverings in certain settings.

78. The Government would also consider asking people once again to work from home if they can, for a limited period. The Government recognises this causes more disruption and has greater immediate costs to the economy and some businesses than the other Plan B interventions, so a final decision would be made based on the data at the time.

Communications – supporting Evidence

At step 4, the Government shifted its approach from one of legal requirements and restrictions towards one focused around personal responsibility and voluntarily following safer behaviours. Though there has been a slight decline in the observance of key protective behaviours post step 4, the majority still continue to adhere to the guidance. 

Mandatory Vaccine-only COVID-status Certification

80. On 19 July, the Prime Minister served notice that, by the end of September, the Government was planning to make full vaccination a condition of entry to nightclubs and other venues where large crowds gather.

[…]

82. Taking into account the latest data on the state of the epidemic, mandatory vaccine‑only certification will not be implemented from the end of September. It would, however, be part of the Government’s Plan B if the data suggests action is required to prevent unsustainable pressure on the NHS. Mandating vaccine-only certification would be preferable to closing venues entirely or re-imposing social distancing.

83. For now, the NHS COVID Pass will continue to certify individuals based on vaccination, testing or natural immunity status. If Plan B is implemented, at that point the NHS COVID Pass will change to display full vaccination only. Exemptions will continue to apply for those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons, for those on COVID vaccine clinical trials, and for under 18s.

84. Under Plan B, the Government expects to introduce mandatory vaccine certification in a limited number of settings, with specific characteristics. The Government hopes that it would not be necessary to mandate vaccine certification more widely than these settings, though this cannot be entirely ruled out.

85. If Plan B is implemented, it could be at short notice in response to concerning data. Therefore, in order to help businesses prepare their own contingency plans, the Government will shortly publish more detail about the proposed certification regime that would be introduced as part of Plan B. The Government would seek to give businesses at least one week’s notice before mandatory vaccine certification came into force.

Mandatory Vaccine-only COVID-status Certification

Settings

Under Plan B, the Government expects that mandatory vaccine-only certification would be introduced for visitors to the following venues:

  • All nightclubs;
  • Indoor, crowded settings with 500 or more attendees where those attendees are likely to be in close proximity to people from other households, such as music venues or large receptions;
  • Outdoor, crowded settings with 4,000 or more attendees where those attendees are likely to be in close proximity to people from other households, such as outdoor festivals; and
  • Any settings with 10,000 or more attendees, such as large sports and music stadia.

There are some settings that will be exempt from requirements to use the NHS COVID Pass, including communal worship, wedding ceremonies, funerals and other commemorative events, protests and mass participation sporting events

LEGISLATION AND REVIEWS

97. At step 4 of the roadmap, the vast majority of COVID-19 regulations were removed.

98. The Government has reviewed the remaining regulations and decided, subject to agreement from Parliament that it is necessary to extend the following regulations until 24 March 2022, at which point they will be reviewed:

a. The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) Regulations 2020, which impose legal requirements to self-isolate on positive cases and unvaccinated close contacts. Self-isolation will remain crucial in breaking chains of transmission throughout autumn and winter.

b. The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No. 3) Regulations 2020, which enable local authorities to respond to serious and imminent public health threats.

c. The Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel and Operator Liability) (England) Regulations 2021, which impose testing and quarantine requirements on arrivals in England, will remain

99. The Government formally reviews the Coronavirus Act 2020 every six months to ensure that Parliament has an opportunity to expire any temporary non-devolved provisions that are no longer necessary to manage COVID-19. As part of the third six-month review of the Act due in September 2021, the Government is committed to removing those legal provisions that are no longer necessary or proportionate.

The Government intends to recommend to Parliament that the following temporary non-devolved provisions are expired:

a. Section 23 (UK wide) enables changes to the timings of urgent warrants under the Investigatory Powers Act 2016.

b. Section 37 (Schedule 16) (for England) gives Ministers the power to direct the temporary closure of educational institutions and providers.

c. Section 51 (Schedule 21) (for England) allows restrictions to be imposed upon potentially infectious persons including detention, and screening for COVID-19.

d. Section 52 (Schedule 22) (for England) enables Ministers to restrict or prohibit gatherings or events and to close and restrict access to premises during a public health response period.

e. Section 56 (Schedule 26) (England and Wales) provides that appeals imposed under powers set out in Schedule 21 of the Coronavirus Act can be heard by telephone or video in civil proceedings in the Magistrates Court.

f. Section 77 (UK wide) increases the rate of the basic element of Working Tax Credit.

g. Section 78 (for England) is a power for local authorities to change how they meet in meetings held before 7 May 2021.

100. The Government also intends to expire parts of Section 38/Schedule 17 of the Act. Schedule 17 allows the Secretary of State to disapply or modify existing requirements in education and childcare legislation. Expiring parts of schedule 17 includes removing the ability to modify the duty on local authorities to secure the special educational needs provision in a child or young person’s Education and Health Care plan.

101. The Government will consult with the Devolved Administrations in the normal way ahead of publishing the ninth edition of the Coronavirus Act report and subsequent parliamentary debate.

103. The remaining temporary powers in the Coronavirus Act are due to expire at midnight on 24 March 2022. In the spring, the Government will review this legislation and the other remaining regulations and measures and decide whether any need to remain in place.

104. The Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 gives emergency powers to be used in pandemics if they present significant harm to human health. This was used as the legal basis for national restrictions in England. No changes to the Public Health Act are planned

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "COVID-19: next steps for England" in Law & Religion UK, 14 September 2021, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2021/09/14/covid-19-next-steps-for-england/

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.