This is a summary of the government’s COVID-19 Winter Plan.
The full version sets out our programme for suppressing the virus, protecting the NHS and the vulnerable, keeping education and the economy going and providing a route back to normality.
1. The government’s objectives
The government’s strategy will be guided by three objectives:
- suppressing the spread of infection
- finding new and more effective ways of managing the virus and enabling life to return closer to normal
- minimising damage to the economy and society, jobs and livelihoods. And ensuring education is safeguarded in nurseries, schools, colleges and universities
2. Route back to normality
Over the coming months, the government will be able to rely less on economic and social restrictions and more on solutions provided by scientific progress.
Vaccines are at the centre of the government’s plan to ensure life can return to as normal as possible. The government has announced agreements with seven different vaccine developers, securing access to more than 350 million doses to be made available across the UK. Next month, the government will be ready for a UK-wide vaccination programme to begin, provided regulators approve the vaccines.
The safety of the public will always come first. A COVID-19 vaccine will only be approved for use if it has met robust standards on safety, effectiveness and quality through clinical trials.
Effective treatments for COVID-19 will continue to be vital to manage the virus even as vaccines are rolled out in the UK and globally, including for those who cannot be vaccinated, for example because they are immunocompromised. Finding effective treatments will reduce risk to lives and serious illness for people who do contract the virus and support the return to normal life.
A strengthened programme of community testing will allow us to identify and isolate people who do not have symptoms but are unintentionally spreading the virus. In addition, the government will also roll out rapid, regular testing nationally to NHS front-line staff, social care and other high-risk or critical settings.
Testing capacity for those with COVID-19 symptoms has increased almost five-fold in six months, from 100,000 a day at the end of April to 500,000 a day by the end of October, with plans to go even further by the end of the year. This is available to citizens in every part of the UK. The government is working to improve turnaround times for these tests despite the increase in scale and logistical complexity in the expanded network.
3. Controlling the virus
The scientific advances described above provide the route back to normality and should reduce the need for economic and social restrictions in the spring. But until these have been deployed, the government must continue to use other tools to suppress the virus.
4. A targeted approach in England
The COVID-19 Winter Plan also sets out how we will lift national restrictions in England on 2 December. This is only possible because everyone’s efforts during the current restrictions in England have slowed the spread of the virus and eased the pressure on the NHS.
On 2 December, across all of England, regardless of tier:
- the stay at home requirement will end, with travel being permitted again subject to guidance in each tier
- shops, personal care, gyms and the wider leisure sector will reopen
- collective worship, weddings and outdoor sports can resume
- people will no longer be limited to seeing only one other person in outdoor public spaces - the rule of 6 will now apply outdoors as it did in the previous set of tiers
However, the virus is still present and if we aren’t careful it could quickly get out of control again before vaccines and community testing can have an effect. That would put in jeopardy the progress the country has made and once again risk intolerable pressure on the NHS and squeezing out non-Covid patients from vital operations.
This is why, on 2 December, England will move back into a regional, tiered approach– because it is right to target the toughest measures in the areas where we are seeing higher rates of infection.