Labour has called on Boris Johnson’s government to bring in its so-called “plan B” restrictions to tackle the surge in Covid cases.
Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said ministers must listen to scientific advisers asking for tougher curbs – including the mandatory wearing of masks in public places and a return to work-from-home guidance.
“We think we should follow the science – if the scientists are saying work from home and masks, we should do that,” Ms Reeves said on The Andrew Marr Show.
Asked if Labour was in favour of mandatory masks, work from home guidance and vaccination certification, the frontbencher said: “Yes, we’re relaxed about that. We think the government should do it.”
Ms Reeves added: “The government’s dither and delay risks storing up problems for the future … I think we should introduce those things that the scientists say.
“Plan B and those measures like mask wearing, which we should be doing … If we don’t do these things the risk is that the virus gets out of control and that we have to introduce more stringent measures, which frankly nobody wants.”
The shadow chancellor also said “we don’t want to let the government off the hook in terms of plan A … there are things like better statutory sick pay and better ventilation that are also needed”.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak said on Sunday that plan B measures were not necessary “today”, but hinted the government’s position could change.
“The data does not suggest we need to be immediately moving to plan B,” Mr Sunak told Marr. “But of course we will keep an eye on that. The plan B does not involve the same type of very significant economic restrictions we saw previously … so that won’t be necessary.”
Asked if a new furlough scheme was possible, Mr Sunak said: “I think we’re in a different place because of the vaccine programme … we have that plan B if we need it. The data doesn’t suggest we need it today. But if that changes then of course government will be ready to act.”
The government’s new vaccines minister Maggie Throup also claimed plan A is “working” and the ministers were “sticking” with it. She told LBC: “Plan A is working, as I said, the data right now shows that Plan A is working.”
Prof Adam Finn, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said it was “quite questionable” for Mr Sunak to suggest more booster jabs alone would be enough to see the nation through the grim season ahead.
Prof Finn told Times Radio on Saturday the government should “do more” to toughen up on restrictions now to avoid the need for another national lockdown.
Prof Peter Openshaw, a member of the Nervtag group, said he feared a full lockdown would be needed at Christmas “if we don’t act soon” with plan B measures. “There’s no point in delaying,” he told the BBC.
Meanwhile, The Observer reported that the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) contacted local authorities on Friday to canvass their level of support for the “immediate rollout of the winter plan – plan B”.
In the sign that Whitehall is actively planning for a possible escalation in measures, the agency reportedly told council chiefs it was urgently seeking their views to be fed into the Cabinet Office.