Covid: Five months of Plan B could cost £18 billion, leaked documents suggest

Prime Minister Boris Johnson watches as a dose of the pfizer vaccine is diluted before being administered, during a visit to the Covid-19 vaccine centre at the Little Venice Sports Centre in west London.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson watches as a dose of the pfizer vaccine is diluted before being administered, during a visit to the Covid-19 vaccine centre at the Little Venice Sports Centre in west London.

The Prime Minister has so far resisted pressure from health leaders to implement his back-up Plan B measures to slow the spread of Covid-19.

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Boris Johnson has been told that a five-month move to his “Plan B” to control the spread of coronavirus could cost the economy up to £18 billion, leaked Government documents show.

The Prime Minister has so far resisted pressure from health leaders to implement his back-up measures to slow the spread of Covid-19 and ease the pressure on the NHS this autumn and winter.

Papers drawn up by the Cabinet Office’s coronavirus task force and the Treasury detail the potential cost of mandatory mask wearing and vaccine passports, along with the return of work from home guidance.

Obtained by the Politico news website, the internal Treasury impact assessment suggests the measures lasting throughout winter until the end of March would cost the economy between £11 billion and £18 billion.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (centre) speaks to staff during a visit to the Covid-19 vaccine centre at the Little Venice Sports Centre in west London.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson (centre) speaks to staff during a visit to the Covid-19 vaccine centre at the Little Venice Sports Centre in west London.

However, the Government insisted there is “no planned five-month timeline” as it disputed the assumptions in the document and maintained there is currently no need for Plan B.

While scientists believe working from home will have the greatest effect on transmission, the leaked documents suggested mandatory vaccine certification at large venues would have a “moderate” impact.

The assessment said the move for venues such as nightclubs and music venues could reduce transmission at large events by 40-45% and in the wider community by between 1% and 5%.

A Government spokesman said: “We knew the coming months would be challenging, which is why we set out our autumn and winter plan last month.

“Plan B ensures we are ready, should we need to act, to avoid an unsustainable rise in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS.

Boris Johnson has so far resisted pressure from health leaders to implement Plan B measures
Boris Johnson has so far resisted pressure from health leaders to implement Plan B measures

“The presumptions put forward here are untrue, and do not reflect Government policy. The data does not currently show that Plan B is necessary – and there is no planned five-month timeline.”

Meanwhile, a separate impact assessment raised concerns over possible knock-on effects of the introduction of mandatory vaccine passports.

The Telegraph reported that the document from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport warned the move could encourage people to instead go to poorly ventilated pubs and therefore be “counter-intuitive and potentially counter-productive”.

It also suggested that the turnover of venues hit by the move could drop between £345 million and £2 billion.

Greg Parmley, the chief executive of the Live music industry body, said the leak shows the move to mandatory use of passports “would be a mistake”.

“These passports would cost the live music industry billions of pounds while aspects of the rollout would be impractical and potentially dangerous,” he said.