Ministers have denied reports that the government is preparing plan C curbs that would ban the mixing of households in England this winter if cases continued to rise.
But Prof Lucy Chappell, chief scientific adviser to the Department of Health and Social Care, told a parliamentary committee on Tuesday that further measures beyond plan B had been “proposed”.
Asked by MPs if there was a plan C in government, Prof Chappell said: “It has been proposed. The name has been mentioned. It is not being extensively worked up ... People have used the phrase.”
The senior adviser would not be drawn any further on the matter, and did not say what measures could be included in any possible plan C.
Asked if there was a set of plan C measures beyond plan B that was being put together at the DHSC, she said: “At the moment the focus is on plan B.”
Dr Thomas Waite, deputy chief medical officer for the DHSC, told MPs: “I haven’t been consulted on anything about a plan C.”
Last week a report in The Telegraph claimed that plan C curbs on daily life were being considered by government, which would ban the mixing of households at Christmas.
It would be a significant step beyond the government’s plan B measures currently under debate and consideration – including mandatory masks, work from home guidance and vaccine certification.
Prof Chappell told the science and technology select committee that there is “no single metric” that would lead to plan B being enacted, as MPs expressed their frustration at the lack of information on the decision-making process in the days ahead.
It comes as the government was accused of trying to “scupper” its own Covid plan B by leaking the economic cost to the press.
Documents reported on Tuesday morning suggest internal divisions and the Treasury believes the so-called plan B approach would cause up to £18bn of economic damage.
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 £11bn and £18bn.
The papers drawn up by the Treasury and the Cabinet Office’s Covid task force detail the potential cost of mandatory mask wearing and vaccine passports, along with the return of work from home guidance.
Opposition politicians accused elements of the government of trying to delay any “meaningful action” by leaking the private analysis.
“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 Lib Dems’ health spokesperson told The Independent.
Downing Street insisted there is “no planned five-month timeline” as it disputed the assumptions in the document and maintained there is still currently no need for plan B.
The PM’s official spokesman said plan B would only be bought in when “pressure on the NHS is unsustainable” as he defended the measures as allowing “venues to remain open and remain trading”.
A government spokesperson added: “As we have repeatedly made clear, there is no plan C. We knew the coming months would be challenging which is why we set out our plan A and plan B for autumn and winter last month.
“We are monitoring all the data closely and the government remains committed to taking further action if necessary to protect the NHS from being overwhelmed.”
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