Don't deploy Covid 'Plan B': Pubs and shops warn it would 'devastate' recovery

15 September 2021, 07:02 | Updated: 15 September 2021, 09:59

Boris Johnson is being urged to do everything possible to avoid using his 'Plan B'
Boris Johnson is being urged to do everything possible to avoid using his 'Plan B'. Picture: Alamy

By Asher McShane

Pubs, shops and small businesses have criticised Boris Johnson's 'Plan B' to deal with the coronavirus pandemic over the winter and issued a stark warning that it could cripple their Covid-19 recovery efforts.

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Business leaders were quick to hit out after the PM's Plan B Covid-19 contingency plan for the winter was announced.

UKHospitality Chief Executive Kate Nicholls said: "It's critical for the recovery of the hospitality sector and the wider economy that businesses are allowed to continue to operate in viable conditions throughout this winter.

"Hospitality venues are still in a fragile state with significant debts, making their first steps on the road to recovery and rebuilding broken balance sheets, any setbacks over the coming months will result in more businesses closures.

READ MORE: Face masks and lockdowns as 'last resort': Health Sec unveils 'winter plan' options

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about the Covid-19 jab booster programme

"The announcement from the Secretary of State, the continued focus on vaccination roll out and boosters, is much welcome, as their success has been critical to protecting our healthcare system while allowing for the reopening of the economy and businesses to trade without restrictions.

"However, we must caution Government that the introduction of those measures that are left in reserve for this winter, would have significant and drastic impacts on the sector.

"The use of vaccine passports, logistically unworkable and with questionable effectiveness, will have a devastating effect on nightclubs and large-scale events.

"These sectors have been hit hardest and have been at the very back of the queue for reopening and such measures would severely undermine their profitability and ability to recover over the winter months.

"Similarly, work from home orders or guidance would have a significant impact on our city and town centres, not only damaged by restrictions and enforced closures but also significantly reduced footfall."

Claire Walker, co-executive director of the British Chamber of Commerce, said businesses will be “frustrated by the inability of the government to give them any detail around what circumstances could lead to new restrictions and what support firms could get”.

Alan Thomas, UK CEO at Simply Business, one of the UK's largest providers of small business insurance, said: "Small business owners will be breathing a sigh of relief knowing the Prime Minister is looking to avoid any further lockdowns.

"Another lockdown would have a devastating impact on small businesses. Half (48 per cent) of all owners live in fear of future restrictions, and thousands would be put out of business – with almost one in six (15 per cent) saying they'd have to cease trading altogether if we were placed into another lockdown."

What is 'Plan B'?

Due to the unpredictability of the virus, the Government has also prepared contingency plans in the event things take a turn for the worse.Rules that have been retained as part of a back-up plan include:

  • Communicating clearly and urgently the need for caution.
  • Lockdowns "as a last resort".
  • Legally mandating face coverings in certain settings.
  • Potential introduction of vaccine passports.
  • Working from home where possible for a limited time.

However, Boris Johnson has been urged to go 'hard and early' if the pandemic significantly worsens by his chief scientific adviser

Sir Patrick Vallance on Tuesday said the nation is at a "pivot point" and told ministers to react swiftly if cases quickly rise, warning "you can't wait until it's late because you've got to do more".

The Prime Minister published his plan to first use further vaccinations, and if needed resort to mandatory vaccination passports, masks and work from home guidance, to avoid lockdowns during autumn and winter.

He appealed to the five million people who have not taken up the offer of a Covid-19 vaccine to finally get the jab in an effort to avoid tougher restrictions over the winter.

On Wednesday, Mr Johnson will face renewed scrutiny over his proposals when he faces MPs during Prime Minister's Questions.

Sir Patrick warned at a Downing Street press conference on Tuesday that if additional measures were required, it was essential ministers acted swiftly and did not wait for the numbers to run out of control.

"When you make a move, you have to go earlier than you think you want to, you have to go harder than you think you want to and you have to make sure you have got the right geographical coverage," he said.

"So, if this goes in the wrong direction and cases go up, followed by hospitalisations, it's important that the measures are put in place early enough and they are significant enough."

Earlier, Health Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed all over-50s in the UK - as well as those in other vulnerable groups - would be offered a booster shot to maintain protection levels as the country enters the autumn.

Mr Johnson said he hoped the vaccination programme meant the UK could remain "one of the most free societies" in Europe with only limited restrictions to keep the disease in check.

However, he stressed the Government stood ready with a "plan B" for England if the disease took off again over the coming months.

He said it could include mandatory Covid certification - so-called vaccine passports - as well as the return of face masks in public places and encouraging people to work from home.

If the country had gone into last winter - before the vaccinations were available - with the current level of restrictions, cases would, he said, have gone "through the roof".

He said it underlined the importance of getting the vaccine to as many people as possible.

"There are five million or so people who are eligible for vaccines now who haven't been vaccinated," he said.

"Trying to persuade those people it is the right thing to do to get vaccinated would make a significant difference."

Mr Johnson said the Government's plan B had "a number of different shots in the locker" with which it could respond if cases started rising.