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expert reaction to the UK COVID-19 response: Autumn and Winter Plan

The UK Government have released their COVID-19 Autumn and Winter Plan, outlining the possible measures and restrictions the country may see towards the end of this year. 


Prof Dame Anne Johnson PMedSci, President of the Academy of Medical Sciences, said:  

“I am pleased to see the Government’s plan for how to tackle COVID-19 this autumn and winter.  It brings together many of the measures from the Academy’s report to address the risks the winter months will bring, when conditions are ripe for COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses such as flu and RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) to spread.

“The pandemic has taught us that to minimise the spread of COVID-19, and potential pressures on the NHS, it is essential to act fast and early, bring the virus back under control, and prevent higher levels of transmission later on.

“Although the numbers of hospital admissions are currently creeping up, we now have effective vaccines and a wealth of knowledge that we didn’t have when approaching winter last year.  Good planning and fast action are essential to pre-empt significant health challenges and we must work together to combat severe illness in autumn and winter this year.

“Living with COVID-19 requires finding a balance that maximises risk reduction while minimising the impacts on our working and day to day lives.  This includes getting the COVID-19 and flu vaccines, isolating and getting tested when sick, wearing a face mask when in crowded indoor spaces, reducing the number of contacts and working from home if and when appropriate.  These are the things will make for a healthier winter and keep the level of COVID-19 transmission down so we can carry on our lives as close to normal as possible.

“As highlighted in today’s plan, one of the main aims right now must be to maximise the uptake of vaccines, firstly targeting the roughly 20% of the adult population in the UK who remain unvaccinated.  The offer of booster jabs to over 50s and those most at risk is welcome news as we know that immunity wanes over time.  I am pleased these boosters are to be given alongside the flu jab, as part of an expanded flu vaccination programme – something the Academy proposed in our recent COVID-19: preparing for the future report.

“Whatever challenges the coming winter brings, it is vital that we work with patients, the public and communities to coproduce information that supports people in their decision making and enables them to follow measures required to reduce the spread of COVID-19 infection.  Working together we can limit the impact of COVID-19 individuals and enable the NHS to deliver the wide range of services we all need.”  


Dr Simon Clarke, Associate Professor in Cellular Microbiology at the University of Reading, said:

“The winter plan for Covid-19 serves as a warning about the way that we control the virus 18 months after the pandemic first hit. Rolling out the best line of defence, in the form of vaccine boosters and jabs for younger teenagers continues to put the emphasis on ‘Covid, but not too badly’.  While the UK is running hot on the pandemic, this is tacit recognition that it can’t allow things to get much hotter.

“The Government’s Plan B leans on the same ideas as previous lockdowns, that if people can’t be trusted to limit their own interactions, test regularly and take personal responsibility, then increasingly more stringent measures will need to be imposed to bring things under control.

“The issue however is that these measures have been a poor way of controlling the Coronavirus because by the time they’ve been imposed, it’s always been too late and the virus is so common in society that it takes a long time to get back under control.  With such very high numbers of community infections, things could get out of hand very quickly and it may prove impossible to close the stable door before the horse bolts.

“As we face the second winter of Covid-19, the UK cannot wait for the Government to order citizens on how to control the coronavirus if we hope to keep any of the freedoms we currently enjoy.”


Prof Mark Woolhouse, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, University of Edinburgh, said:

“The package of measures announced today is a sensible and proportionate response to the COVID-19 threat in the UK this coming winter. 

“The severity of the pressure on the NHS in the winter months remains very difficult to predict – the Plan recognises this uncertainty and therefore that contingency measures may, or may not, be needed.

“The overarching aim is to continue the return to normal activities while keeping them as safe as possible, with more emphasis on voluntary interventions.

“To my mind some of the key points are:

  • The need to extend the vaccination programme to reach as many as possible of those most vulnerable to COVID-19. Though coverage is already very high, it could be higher still, and given the efficacy of the vaccines in reducing severe infection and death every effort should be made to ensure as few people are left behind by the vaccination programme as possible. This could make a substantial difference to the burden on the NHS.
  • Regular testing to detect asymptomatic or unrecognised infections. Testing helps people protect those around them and activates contact tracing.
  • Public health messaging to help people protect themselves and those around them from infection. 

“It is important that these and other interventions mentioned in the plan are acted upon quickly. The number of people in hospital with COVID-19 continues to grow – albeit slowly – and light touch interventions instigated now are the most effective way of ensuring – as we all hope – that more drastic interventions are not needed later on.”


All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:


Declared interests

Prof Mark Woolhouse: No CoIs.

None others received.

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