MANDATORY face mask wearing and working from home could return if coronavirus cases surge, the government’s Covid-19 winter plan warns.

But the strategy unveiled by Boris Johnson hopes that vaccinations - including jabs for 12 to 15-year-olds and boosters for the over-50s - could keep the pandemic at bay.

The blueprint has been broadly welcomed in East Lancashire, but Blackburn with Darwen Council’s public health director Professor Dominic Harrison said requiring the wearing of face masks in enclosed public spaces should have been part of its ‘Plan A’.

The strategy also warns vaccination passports for nightclubs and large events could be made a legal requirement if the virus surges again.

Ribble Valley Tory MP Nigel Evans said: “We appear to be on the right track to retain the progress made towards an open economy and lives free of restrictions.

“It is wise to have a ‘Plan B’ but if we all do our bit on vaccines then the NHS will not be overwhelmed and ‘Plan B’ containing mask wearing, Covid passports and another lockdown will not be needed.”

The blueprint says lockdowns and other ‘more harmful’ economic and social restrictions would only be considered as a last resort.

Its Plan A concentrates on pharmaceutical interventions like booster vaccines and flu jabs; ramping up test, trace and isolate rules; providing more money for the NHS and social care; better communications; and helping vaccinate the world and manage risks at the UK border.

Plan B warns of urging people to be more cautious and work from home; introducing vaccine passports in certain settings; and requiring face coverings in some places.”

Mr Johnson said: “Covid is still out there. The disease still remains a risk but I am confident we can protect the gains we’ve made together.”

Prof Harrison said: “This winter plan for Covid is broadly what was expected. I support the general approach.

“One criticism of the approach taken by government in this winter plan is that much of the strategy focuses on what we will do if things go ‘pear shaped’. Many public health professionals feel we should be focusing on stopping rising case rates, hospitalisations and deaths in the first place through some sensible retention of basic infection control measures such as mandatory mask wearing in enclosed public spaces.”

Blackburn MP Kate Hollern said: “This announcement is just another example of Tory dithering. All they are saying is that people should continue to get vaccinated and that booster jabs will be issued. I very much fear that, just like last November, ‘Plan B’ will be implemented too late and our hospitals will be put under further pressure.”

Lancashire County Council public health director Dr Sakthi Karunanithi, said: “After 18 months of living in a pandemic, it is understandable that people just want to get on with their lives.

“Living with Covid-19 does not mean we can let our guards down completely.

“Getting vaccinated remains the most effective thing you can do, but vaccinations alone are not sufficient.”

Hyndburn Council leader Cllr Miles Parkinson said: “We had all hoped to be entering this season with the pandemic somewhat behind us. However we must keep going to keep people safe and not become complacent. I am pleased to see the plan does not include closure of schools or businesses. By getting our jabs and being cautious we will protect each other.”

Cllr Mohammed Khan, leader of Blackburn with Darwen Council, said: “We agree that more lockdowns are not what the country needs. We will continue to call on the government for financial support for those sectors of our business community that were worst hit by the previous lockdowns.” As one of the hardest hit boroughs in England,funding should be targeted at areas like ours with long-term structural issues which the pandemic has only exacerbated.

“We also call on the government to provide funding to local councils for essential public health services that help keep local populations well and avoid needing hospital treatment.”