Pressure on the NHS in Scotland and across the UK is building as we move into winter.
Health boards in Scotland are requesting extra support from the army, making this the first time ever that armed forces have assisted in providing acute care.
Covid cases are rising in many areas across the UK, despite vaccination efforts.
Although the high rate of vaccination is stopping many people from getting seriously ill and needing to go to hospital, the rate of infection is still on the rise in many place.
In the eventuality that the NHS begins to struggle once more, the UK government has already mentioned that they have a Covid Plan B.
On October 20th, NHS Confederation chief executive Matthew Taylor warned Prime Minister Boris Johnson that certain measures from Plan B needed to be brought back now, to avoid a “winter crisis”.
So what’s actually included in the plan? Here’s what we know about Covid Plan B and how likely it is to happen during the coming winter.
What are Covid Plan B restrictions?
In mid-September, Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined two plans for tackling Covid during autumn and winter of 2021.
The first, Plan A, was designed to prevent the NHS from becoming overwhelmed, with an emphasis on testing and vaccinations.
The second, Plan B, was only to be used if the NHS faced “unsustainable pressure”.
It included measures such as urging the public to act more cautiously, enforcing mandatory vaccine passports for mass events, and legally mandating face masks in some public spaces.
Will Covid Plan B happen?
When asked what would spark a move from Plan A to Plan B, Mr Johnson said that the risks, the state of the disease, and the pressure on hospitals would all be taken into consideration.
He also emphasised that the smaller changes requested by the government as part of both Plan A and B were designed to avoid returning to lockdowns like in 2020 and early 2021.
With the increased pressure on the NHS that we’re seeing across the UK, it could be that further restrictions are required.
Case numbers for Covid are similar in some areas now to the previous wave of the virus that we saw in the winter of 2020.
There has also been confused messaging from the Labour party, as Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth seemed to come out in favour of the move.
“We are in favour of plan B,” said Mr Ashworth. He went on to state that Labour “never had a problem” with vaccine passports to enter indoor events and backed compulsory mask-wearing.
At the same time, party leader Sir Keir Starmer said that the controversy over Plan B was “the wrong focus”.
"The question we need to ask if why is Plan A failing?” said Sir Keir. “It’s failing because the government has allowed that wall of the vaccine to crumble.”
Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak has also spoken out about Covid Plan B, stating that he sees “no immediate need” for fresh restrictions.
However, while the number of people being admitted to hospital has been rising gradually, it is still below the levels from last autumn when the NHS was facing some of its toughest pandemic challenges.
What’s more, plans for booster jabs are already under way to keep up the existing levels of immunity, although there have been some issues of people being underdosed with their third jab.
While rising case numbers are no doubt concerning, it’s the pressure on the NHS that will be the main decisive factor of whether steps from Covid Plan B will be implemented.
In addition, the rising pressure on NHS Scotland is coming more from other viruses and ailments than Covid.
It’s also worth noting that two of the main steps included in Plan B are still in place in Scotland, with vaccine passports already mandatory for certain events and face masks still compulsory in public.