The government has published its COVID-19 Response - Autumn and Winter Plan 2021, setting out plans for autumn and winter 2021/22 in England.
In this document, the government outlines the government’s plans for autumn and winter 2021 for England. It includes the Government’s “Plan A” - a comprehensive approach designed to steer the country through autumn and winter 2021/22. It also outlines a Plan B which would only be enacted if the data suggests further measures are necessary to protect the NHS.
Over autumn and winter, the government says it will aim to sustain the progress made and prepare the country for future challenges, while ensuring the NHS does not come under unsustainable pressure. The Government plans to achieve this by:
Building defences through pharmaceutical interventions: vaccines, antivirals and disease modifying therapeutics.
Identifying and isolating positive cases to limit transmission: Test, Trace and Isolate.
Supporting the NHS and social care: managing pressures and recovering services.
Advising people on how to protect themselves and others: clear guidance and communications.
Pursuing an international approach: helping to vaccinate the world and managing risks at the border.
However, it is noted that the last 18 months have shown the pandemic can change course rapidly and unexpectedly and it remains hard to predict with certainty what will happen. 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.
If the data suggests the NHS is likely to come under unsustainable pressure, the government has prepared a Plan B for England.
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:
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.
Working from home
The government says it would also consider asking people once again to work from home if they can, for a limited period. The government says it 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.
The Scientific Pandemic Influenza group on Modelling (SPI-M) and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) have advised that high levels of homeworking have played a very important role in preventing sustained epidemic growth in recent months. If the Government were to re-introduce this measure it would be seeking to reduce the transmission risk inside and outside of the workplace, including by reducing the number of people taking public transport and the number of face-to-face meetings and social activities, and thereby reducing community and household transmission.
The REACT survey from Imperial College London showed that working from home reduced the chance of catching COVID-19. Those who were working from home were less likely to test positive for COVID-19 than those who left their homes to work in February. Analyses of risk by occupation consistently show a lower risk for those occupations with higher levels of working from home, says the document.
However, overall impacts on productivity are uncertain and vary by sectors and workers. While there are positive impacts for some individuals, in terms of spending less time and money commuting, others will suffer owing to inadequate working conditions at home, particularly younger workers, and those living alone or with poorer mental health due to reduced interactions with colleagues. Some businesses have reported that productivity has either remained the same or increased, owing to benefits such as a happier workforce and reduced overheads (for example, in spending on office space). However, other businesses report that prescriptive working from home guidance poses challenges, such as hampering the exchange of ideas, stifling creativity and hindering collaboration.
The full document is available here.
Cabinet Office September 2021