'Premature' scrapping of Plan B risks fresh spike in COVID-19 infections

Government plans to scrap Plan B measures from 27 January are premature and threaten to further destabilise NHS patient care by fuelling a rebound in infections across the UK, doctors leaders say.

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul
BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul (Photo: JH Lancy)

Prime minister Boris Johnson told parliament on 19 January that data from the Office for National Statistics showed infections were now falling and that 'our scientists believe it is likely that the Omicron wave has now peaked nationally'.

He admitted pressure on the NHS remained 'significant', but said hospital admissions had stabilised and numbers in intensive care remained low - and that the cabinet had agreed a return to Plan A from next week, meaning measures such as mandatory face coverings in some settings will end.

BMA leaders, however, warned that the move was premature - and said it was 'clearly not guided by the data'.

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UK COVID-19 vaccination programme tracker

The UK recorded more than 108,000 positive COVID-19 cases on 19 January - the highest figure in nearly a week and well above any figure recorded in a single day prior to the spike over Christmas and the New Year.

Meanwhile, almost 19,000 patients with COVID-19 are in hospital - more than double the figure recorded on Christmas Day.

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said the decision to ease pandemic restrictions risked 'creating a false sense of security when the levels of infection and illness remain high, and the NHS is still under crippling pressure'.

He said: 'This decision clearly is not guided by the data. When Plan B was introduced in December, there were 7,373 patients in hospital in the UK - the latest data this week shows there are 18,979. Case rates too are nearly twice as many.

NHS under pressure

'The pressures on the NHS are clear for everyone to see. We have a record backlog of 6m patients at a time when hospitals are cancelling operations, Trusts are declaring critical incidents and ambulance delays are jeopardising public safety.

'Removing all restrictions risks a rebound in the number of infections across society, would inevitably increase hospitalisation rates, further destabilise patient care and drive up the rate of staff absences and the number of people with long COVID.'

The wave of COVID-19 infections triggered by Omicron has further increased pressure on GP services in recent weeks, with one in five GPs forced to self isolate in the two-week period after Christmas.

The increased pressure comes as polling shows a quarter of GPs are so tired at work that they believe patient care is being undermined - as a stretched workforce deals with unprecedented demand for appointments.

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