Prime minister Boris Johnson has updated the UK on further changes to the COVID-19 response ahead of winter, including recommencing business conferences, additional funding for the NHS and providing more powers to local authorities.

Striking an optimistic tone, the prime minister today set out the government’s updated approach to dealing with the pandemic, alongside plans to scale back further restrictions.

“We are making sure we are ready for winter, and planning for the worst. But even as we plan for the worst, I strongly believe we should also hope for the best,” he encouraged.

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“That means looking ahead with optimism – now extending our plan to lift the remaining national measures which have restricted our lives since March so we can get back to something closer to normal life.”

In particular, the prime minister highlighted his desire for normality come the winter – even hinting at the removal of social distancing during the Q&A portion of the nation address.

“It is my strong and sincere hope that we will be able to review the outstanding restrictions and allow a more significant return to normality from November at the earliest, possibly in time for Christmas,” he said.

Despite this, however, Mr Johnson also warned that the winter may also be the most challenging time during the pandemic.

“It is possible that the virus will be more virulent in the winter months – and it is certain that the NHS will face the usual, annual winter pressures,” he pointed out.

From a national to a local approach

Key to the prime minister’s speech was the announcement that local authorities will have more power to implement local lockdown and undertake more actions to combat the virus.

“National lockdown was undoubtedly the right thing to do and has saved many thousands of lives,” explained Mr Johnson.

“Now, however, we know more about the virus – we understand the epidemiology better and our intelligence on where it is spreading is vastly improved. That means we can control it through targeted, local action instead.”

Pointing to the operational NHS Test and Trace system now in place, the PM emphasised that the approach has already shown it can work in locations including Bradford, Blackburn and Leicester – with Leicester’s full local lockdown being eased from next week.

“Today we are publishing our framework for containing and controlling future outbreaks in England, which will enable national and local government to work closely together,” continued the prime minister.

“From tomorrow, local authorities will have new powers in their areas. They will be able to close specific premises, shut public outdoor spaces, and cancel events. These powers will enable local authorities to act more quickly in response to outbreaks, where speed is paramount.”

While local authorities will have the ability to take more action, the PM also confirmed that central government will still retain the power to intervene if required.

“I know that it will be hard going for people affected by these local measures. It isn’t easy, and for some, it may seem unjust that people just a short distance away can live their lives closer to normal,” he added.

“But it has to be right that we take local action in response to local outbreaks – there is no point shutting down a city in one part of the country to contain an outbreak in another part of the country.”

NHS funding

In addition to more authority to take action at the local level, the government has confirmed the NHS will receive an additional £3 billion in England to prepare for a winter with COVID-19 – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will also receive additional funding.

Commentators and the NHS have expressed concerns regarding winter as it looks to tackle the usual spike in demand on services that the season brings, alongside a potential second spike of COVID-19 and a potential flu outbreak.

“As we approach winter, we will need to go further – not least as many more people will show COVID-like symptoms as a result of seasonal illnesses, and therefore require a test,” said Mr Johnson.

“So we will further increase testing capacity to at least half a million antigen tests a day – 3.5 million antigen tests a week – by the end of October.”

As well as a commitment to bolster testing, the government said it has increased its stock of ventilators available to patients from 9,000 pre-pandemic to now nearly 30,000 and substantially scaled up its access to PPE.

A large-scale flu vaccination programme which the PM called “the biggest ever flu vaccination programme in the history of the UK” is also planned.

Return of business conferences and exhibitions

One of the last major lockdown measures to be rolled back, the prime minister announced that business conferences will potentially restart in the autumn.

“From October, we intend to bring back audiences in stadia and to allow conferences and other business events to recommence – again, these changes must be done in a COVID Secure way, subject to the successful outcome of pilots.”

For the mobility and access sector, this may mean that the postponed Naidex event – pushed back from March to November – may still take place this year, as well as The OT Show.

Nightingales in place until March

Birmingham NEC Nightingale
Is it not yet confirmed if the NEC will be used as a Nightingale hospital in the winter

Despite announcing the possible recommencement of exhibitions, the prime minister also confirmed that the Nightingale hospitals will be able to remain in place until 2021.

“This will allow the NHS to continue to use the extra hospital capacity acquired from the independent sector and also to maintain the Nightingale hospitals until the end of March.”

With the West Midlands’ Nightingale facility being located at the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) where the two aforementioned shows are scheduled to take place, it is not yet clear what bearing this announcement will have on either show’s ability to take place.

Return to work

With confusion growing in recent days regarding employees returning back to work after seemingly opposite views between the prime minister and UK’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, Mr Johnson attempted to clarify the government’s position.

“We’re going to give employers more discretion and ask them to make decisions about how their staff can work safely,” he said.

“That could mean continuing to work from home, which is one way of working safely and which has worked for many employers and employees. Or it could mean making workplaces safe.”

According to the PM, this is something that must be decided between employers and employees, rather than central government.

Too optimistic

Given the concerns of a second spike of COVID-19 infections in the winter, fuelled by a potential flu outbreak, the PM himself addressed the potential criticism that plans to further roll back measures by winter is “too optimistic” in his address but promised all plans were conditional.

“Now I know some will say this plan is too optimistic, that the risks are too great and that we won’t overcome the virus in time,” stated Mr Johnson.

“And of course, if they are right in saying that, and we cannot exclude that they are, let me reassure them, and reassure you: that we will not hesitate at any stage to put on the brakes.”

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We respect your privacy BarnettCoronavirus NewsCOVID-19 Sector NewsCOVID-19 Trade NewsEvents & ExhibitionsGovernment & Local AuthoritiesInvestments & FundingNewsroomNHSSector NewsTrade NewsBoris Johnson,coronavirus,COVID-19,funding,Leicester,local lockdowns,Naidex,NHS,PPE,Prime Minister,Sir Patrick Vallance,The OT Show,winter,winter worriesPrime minister Boris Johnson has updated the UK on further changes to the COVID-19 response ahead of winter, including recommencing business conferences, additional funding for the NHS and providing more powers to local authorities. Striking an optimistic tone, the prime minister today set out the government’s updated approach to dealing...News, views & products for mobility, access and independent living professionals