The government has been accused of trying to “scupper” its own Covid plan by leaking the economic cost to the press.
Documents released on Tuesday morning suggest the Treasury believes the so-called “plan B” approach would cause up to £18bn of economic damage.
But opposition politicians accused the government of trying to delay “meaningful action” by distributing the private analysis – amid warnings of a difficult winter ahead.
“Throughout this pandemic, the government has made countless errors that have cost lives. They’ve failed to listen to the experts, and now they’re trying to scupper their own plan B by leaking memos,” Daisy Cooper, the Liberal Democrats’ health spokesperson told The Independent.
“The public will not forgive this government if this delay to meaningful action results in harsher measures down the line. We need leadership now. The government must treat the public like adults and publish the expert advice they have received now.”
Chief secretary to the Treasury, Simon Clarke, declined to comment on the leak when asked about them in the Commons on Tuesday afternoon.
The analysis, first reported by the Politico website, says the Treasury’s main concern with plan B is that encouraging people to work from home could reduce their daily costs and deprive businesses of income.
Meanwhile, a Cabinet Office document says requiring Covid passports for mass events would have a limited impact because only a small proportion of overall community transmission happened in them.
Such vaccines passports would have a “high impact” on the economy and could cause “wider impacts”, the analysis says.
Asked about the leak, business minister Paul Scully told LBC: “We don’t want to be stifling the recovery, so no sense that there’s anything at the moment that’s suggesting plan B is needed.”
A government spokesperson 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.
“The presumptions put forward do not reflect government policy. The data does not currently show that plan B is necessary – and there is no planned five-month timeline.”
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