Bringing back Covid curbs under the Government’s Plan B could cost the economy up to £18 billion, Boris Johnson has been warned.
A secret paper drawn up by the Cabinet Office and the Treasury concluded that reintroducing restrictions would cause significant damage to the economy.
The alarming estimate is based on the ruinous cost of reverting to working from home over the winter, wearing face masks and the imposition of Covid passports on some entertainment venues.
But the document, which was leaked yesterday, said the restrictions – which it assumes would stay in place for five months – would make little difference to the spread of the disease.
Bringing back Covid curbs under the Government’s Plan B could cost the economy up to £18 billion, Boris Johnson has been warned in a secret paper leaked yesterday
The projections are likely to intensify the pressure on ministers to resist any move back toward Plan B, which Labour and some health organisations have called for.
It came as weekly Covid cases dropped for the first time in six weeks, boosting hopes that Plan B will not be necessary. Latest government data shows infections are levelling off after increasing steadily since children returned to school in September.
Yesterday, 40,954 cases were reported – against 43,738 last Tuesday and 52,009 on Thursday. It will add to hopes the recent wave is burning itself out, as happened following the Euros football tournament.
Hospital admissions are also flattening, and dropped to 916 yesterday. Daily admissions to NHS hospitals had topped 1,000 for three days in a row last week – which officials had previously suggested would be the trigger for Plan B. There are currently 8,693 Covid patients in hospital.
Deaths, however, are still rising, with 263 recorded yesterday.
It came as weekly Covid cases dropped for the first time in six weeks, boosting hopes that Plan B will not be necessary
Downing Street yesterday reiterated that it had ‘no plans’ to deviate from the current Covid strategy. The Prime Minister’s spokesman said Plan B would only be brought in when ‘pressure on the NHS is unsustainable’, which ‘is not the case currently’.
‘If it were to become the case, the Plan B measures would allow venues to remain open and remain trading.
‘We are confident the Plan B measures taken as a package will help curb Covid cases while also striking that important balance of allowing parts of the economy to remain open that will otherwise face severe restrictions or even closure.’
He added: ‘There isn’t anything in the statistics currently to suggest a move to Plan B, but it is too early to draw conclusions.’
The Cabinet Office document worked on the ‘assumption’ that Plan B would have to be in place throughout the winter until the end of March. It concluded that such a step would have an unclear effect on preventing the spread of the virus, but would inflict a huge toll on the economy.
The Treasury calculated that moving to Plan B would cost the economy between £11 billion and £18 billion. The main concern is the effect that millions switching back to working from home will have on businesses, particularly in inner-city areas and towns.
The Cabinet Office’s Covid-19 Taskforce, meanwhile, produced an analysis on introducing Covid status certification for mass events for the proposed five-month Plan B period.
It finds that a Covid certification scheme would reduce transmission at these events by 40 to 45 per cent.
But it warns that, because only 2 to 13 per cent of overall community transmission takes place in venues covered by the scheme, there would be only a ‘moderate impact from reduced community transmission’.
The Cabinet Office document concludes that certification is ‘likely to have a positive impact in reducing transmission, although it is not possible to say accurately by how much’.