The aim of this document is to outline an overall strategy for handling the COVID pandemic which protects the public with the minimum of disruption to the everyday life of our communities. This involves driving levels of infection down and keeping them down at a level where outbreaks can be handled through highly targeted measures (notably test, trace and supported isolation).
It is important to stress, therefore, that our strategy is not a “lockdown” strategy. To the contrary, further lockdowns only become necessary where there is a failure to implement sustainable suppression measures that we describe below.
There are two main elements to our approach. The first concerns the short-term ‘lockdown’ measures necessary to bring infections down to levels where the strongest restrictions are no longer necessary. We are currently in this phase. The more comprehensive these measures are with minimal non-essential activities, the faster and further they will reduce the prevalence of infection and hence the sooner it will be possible to start lifting restrictions.
The second element concerns the measures necessary to keep infections at a sufficiently low level to allow for local outbreaks to be handled without the need to impose general lockdowns. While vaccination is a key measure – and makes suppression considerably easier – it is certainly insufficient on its own until the entire population is vaccinated and may remain insufficient even then (due to uncertainties about the level of protection and longevity that it affords, especially given the emergence of new variants).
Any policy which lifts all restrictions before the whole population has been offered vaccines (and hence allows the virus to spread) brings unacceptable risks of (a) overwhelming the NHS and compromising the treatment of non-COVID conditions; (b) causing long-term morbidity through Long COVID; (c) increasing the chance of new COVID variants emerging that could evade existing vaccines.
It is therefore necessary to complement the immunity conferred by vaccination with other measures to suppress infections. It is important to stress that these measures are principally about supporting the public to remain safe, rather than about restricting activities.