Last reviewed 14 September 2021
We reported recently that parts of the Coronavirus Act 2020 were expected to be repealed as the Government prepared to set out its latest plan for dealing with Covid-19 (see Government outlines next steps in its Covid response).
Health Secretary Sajid Javid has now published the Covid-19 Response: Autumn and Winter Plan. This 32-page document reviews the situation to date, particularly the success of the UK’s vaccine programme, and sets out how the Government will aim to prepare the country for future challenges, while ensuring the NHS does not come under unsustainable pressure.
Under the plan, the Government aims to:
continue building defences through pharmaceutical interventions: vaccines, antivirals and disease-modifying therapeutics
identify and isolate positive cases to limit transmission (Test, Trace and Isolate)
support the NHS and social care by managing pressures and recovering services
advise people on how to protect themselves and others with clear guidance and communications
pursue an international approach by helping to vaccinate the world and managing risks at the UK border.
While this is the Government’s Plan A, Mr Javid explained, it recognises that this winter could be particularly difficult due to the impacts of Covid-19 on top of the usual increase in emergency demand and seasonal respiratory diseases such as flu.
“So that the public and businesses know what to expect”, he went on, “this document outlines a Plan B in England which would only be enacted if the data suggests further measures are necessary to protect the NHS”.
If the data suggests that the NHS is likely to come under unsustainable pressure, it should still be possible to handle a further resurgence with less damaging measures than the lockdowns and economic and social restrictions deployed in the past.
However, the Government will prioritise measures which can help control transmission of the virus while seeking to minimise economic and social impacts by:
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.
As part of its third six-monthly review of the Act due in September 2021, the Government is committed to removing those legal provisions that are no longer necessary or proportionate.
It intends to recommend to Parliament that the following temporary non-devolved provisions are expired:
s.23 (UK wide) enables changes to the timings of urgent warrants under the Investigatory Powers Act 2016
s.37 (Schedule 16) (for England) gives Ministers the power to direct the temporary closure of educational institutions and providers
s.51 (Schedule 21) (for England) allows restrictions to be imposed upon potentially infectious persons including detention, and screening for Covid-19
s.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
s.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
s.77 (UK wide) increases the rate of the basic element of Working Tax Credit
s.78 (for England) is a power for local authorities to change how they meet in meetings held before 7 May 2021.
The Government also intends to expire parts of the Act which allow the Secretary of State to disapply or modify existing requirements in education and childcare legislation. This includes removing the ability to modify the duty on local authorities to secure the special educational needs (SEN) provision in a child or young person’s Education and Health Care plan.
The Health Secretary also confirmed that the rollout of booster jab for over-50s and younger vulnerable adults will start in the week beginning 20 September 2021, when invitations will start going out to children aged 12 to 15 in England to have one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid jab.