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Living with COVID-19 – the autumn/winter plan

by Jonathan Kearney

Earlier this week, the Prime Minister announced his plan for dealing with COVID-19 during the upcoming autumn and winter months, ensuring that the NHS does not come under unsustainable pressure.

Moving forward, the UK Government’s plan is to live with COVID-19, and the main line of defence is vaccination rather than lockdown. Over the past few months, we have seen rules, regulations and restrictions replaced with advice and guidance, with everyone asked to play their part in managing the risk to themselves and others.

The Government’s plan is built around 5 key principles:

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

Plan B will be deployed if the NHS comes under unsustainable pressure. It prioritises measures which can help to control transmission of the virus while seeking to minimise economic and social impacts. Plan B measures include:-

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

The Government would also consider asking people once again to work from home if they can, for a limited period.

Cllr Christine Bannon, Cabinet Member for Health, said: “Although we are now back to living relatively normal lives, the virus has not gone away. Unfortunately, each winter the NHS faces numerous pressures, and it is likely that COVID-19 will add to this.

“I’m urging all residents to follow the advice outlined below, including getting vaccinated. We all have a part to play in order to protect ourselves, our loved ones and the NHS.”

Vaccine

The COVID-19 vaccine has already had a huge impact on the virus, bringing down the rate of transmission, the number of people getting seriously ill, hospitalisations and deaths.

To help protect the NHS and our local community, anyone who is eligible but not yet had the vaccine is encouraged to do so. You can find out more about getting vaccinated here.

Over the coming weeks, individuals who received their vaccination in Phase 1 of the vaccination programme will be offered booster doses.  12-15 year olds will also be offered the vaccine.

Testing

Residents are encouraged to continue undertaking regular testing and engaging with NHS Track and Trace to help stop the spread of COVID-19. As part of its plan, the UK Government has committed to:

  • 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. Everyone with COVID-19 symptoms is expected to self-isolate and take a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.
  • PCR testing for those with symptoms will continue to be available free of charge.
  • Regular asymptomatic testing will continue to help find cases and break the chains of transmission. LFT tests will remain free for the time being although this will change in the future.
  • Testing in secondary schools and further education will remain for the rest of the term.
  • Contact tracing will continue through NHS Track and Trace. Isolation financial support will remain available.

Behaviours

The UK Government is encouraging a number of behaviours to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. These include:

  • Let fresh air in if you meet indoors. Meeting outdoors is safer. Meeting outdoors vastly reduces the risk of airborne transmission. However, it is not always possible, particularly through the winter. If you are indoors, being in a room with fresh air (and, for example, opening your windows regularly for 10 minutes or a small amount continuously) can still reduce the airborne risk from COVID-19 substantially compared to spaces with no fresh air.
  • Wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed settings where you come into contact with people you do not normally meet.
  • Get tested, and self-isolate if required. Anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 should self-isolate and take a free PCR test as soon as possible. Anyone who tests positive must self-isolate. Anyone who is notified they are a close contact of someone who has tested positive should also take a free PCR test as soon as possible and self-isolate if required. The data on symptoms associated with COVID-19 is continuously being gathered and kept under review.
  • Try to stay at home if you are feeling unwell.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitiser regularly throughout the day.
  • Download and use the NHS COVID-19 app to know if you’ve been exposed to the virus.

Read the full plan here.