On 14th September, the government released its Autumn and Winter Plan in response to COVID-19 outlining steps that will be taken throughout the autumn and winter period to help the fight against the Coronavirus.
Full details of the plan can be found on the Government Website.
The Government has three priorities for the COVID-19 vaccination programme in England for the autumn and winter:
- Maximising uptake of the vaccine among those that are eligible but have not yet taken up the offer.
- Offering booster doses to individuals who received vaccination in Phase 1 of the COVID-19 vaccination programme (priority groups 1-9).
- Offering a first dose of vaccine to 12-15 year olds
First, the Government will continue to make vaccines easily available to everybody to maximise uptake among those that are eligible but have not yet taken up the offer. It is recommended at everybody accepts the offer of vaccination as a way of protecting themselves, the people around them, and society as a whole.
Second, the NHS will offer booster doses to individuals who received their vaccination in Phase 1 of programme.
Third, the NHS will offer 12-15 year olds a first dose of the Pfizer vaccine (some children in this age group may already have been vaccinated based on clinical advice). School immunisation teams will start offering the vaccine from week commencing 20th September. Please await further information from your child’s school.
- Test, Trace and Isolate
The Test, Trace, and Isolate system will remain in place throughout the autumn and winter period. Testing in education settings plays an important role in identifying positive cases and this programme is expected to continue for the rest of the term. Contact tracing will also continue through the autumn and winter. This means NHS Test and Trace and local tracing teams will continue to check with all positive cases whether they need support to self-isolate, find out who they may have passed the virus onto and alert those contacts, and ask all contacts to take a PCR test as soon as possible to help identify positive cases.
Everyone with COVID-19 symptoms is still expected to self-isolate and take a PCR test. The legal requirement to self-isolate for 10 days if an individual tests positive for COVID-19 remains in place.
Practical and financial support is available to those who are eligible and require assistance to self-isolate.
- Clinically Extremely Vulnerable guidance and shielding advice
Shielding has officially ended and government continues to assess the situation and the risks posed by COVID-19 and, based on clinical advice, will respond accordingly to keep the most vulnerable safe. Individuals should consider advice from their health professional on whether additional precautions are right for them.
- Getting a vaccine for influenza (flu)
The Government recommends as many people as possible receive a vaccination against flu this autumn and winter. This could help to reduce overall pressure on the NHS and is especially important this year given the possibility of a substantial resurgence in flu. The NHS has begun to roll out the annual campaign for the flu vaccination from August 2021. A free flu vaccination will still be available for all previously eligible groups:
- Primary school children.
- 65 year olds and over.
- Vulnerable groups.
- Pregnant women.
The Government has also extended eligibility for a free flu vaccination this year to include:
- Secondary school children.
- 50-64 year olds.
As with the COVID-19 vaccine, flu vaccines are available from a range of different providers, including GPs, community pharmacies, and health centres. For those not eligible for a free flu vaccine, some employers offer these vaccinations through workplaces, and vaccinations are available for a small fee from pharmacies.
- Protecting yourself and others
The best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 is to get fully vaccinated. People that are fully vaccinated should continue to follow behaviours and actions set out in the guidance on how to help limit the spread of COVID-19
The behaviours encouraged to prevent the spread include:
- Let fresh air in if you meet indoors. Meeting outdoors is safer. Meeting outdoors vastly reduces the risk of airborne transmission. However, it is not always possible, particularly through the winter. If you are indoors, being in a room with fresh air (and, for example, opening your windows regularly for 10minutes or a small amount continuously) can still reduce the airborne risk from COVID-19 substantially compared to spaces with no fresh air.
- Wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed settings where you come into contact with people you do not normally meet.
- Get tested, and self-isolate if required. Anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 should self-isolate and take a free PCR test as soon as possible. Anyone who tests positive must self-isolate. Anyone who is notified they are a close contact of someone who has tested positive should also take a free PCR test as soon as possible and self-isolate if required. The data on symptoms associated with COVID-19 is continuously being gathered and kept under review.
- Try to stay at home if you are feeling unwell.
- Wash your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitiser regularly throughout the day.
- Download and use the NHS COVID-19 app to know if you’ve been exposed to the virus.
- Face Coverings
Though there is no current legal requirement, the Government recommends that people continue to wear face coverings in crowded and enclosed spaces where you come into contact with people you don’t normally meet, for example on public transport.
If Plan B (see Plan B below) is implemented, the Government will bring back the legal requirement to wear face coverings in some settings. The precise settings will be decided at the time.
- Care Home
Please contact the care home directly for information about any rules that may be in place before visiting.
- Public transport: Some bus and train companies may require you to wear a face covering when using their services.
- International travel: There is currently a traffic light system in place for international travel. Please see Red, amber and green list rules for entering England - GOV.UK for the latest information and rules.
- Plan B
If the data suggests the NHS is likely to come under unsustainable pressure, the Government has prepared a Plan B for England.
The Government’s Plan B prioritises measures which can help control transmission of the virus.
- 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.
The Government would also consider asking people once again to work from home if they can, for a limited period.