THE chorus of the sensible calling for an end to the lockdown is mounting. With the Office for Budget Responsibility suggesting that government borrowing could hit £273billion (or 14 per cent GDP) and growth drop by 35 per cent, the challenge involved in rebooting the economy is already immense and urgent.
Lockdown sceptics no longer find themselves so alone as disquiet grows about the Government’s refusal to reveal its exit strategy. Even the Government’s own payroll scientists are becoming uneasy. One warns that the lack of transparency, intended to discourage people from letting their guard down, risks backfiring. Dr James Rubin, the chief behavioural science adviser, said yesterday that if the public’s trust in the ‘difficult and costly’ social distancing restrictions is to be maintained, clarity is needed: ‘People need to understand and have a right to understand what the plan is and what timelines look like.’
Indeed they have. But that presupposes that the government has such a plan. In the Telegraph, Fraser Nelson reports that, to the contrary, they haven’t a clue:
‘If you have no idea when Britain’s lockdown will end, you’re in good company. Cabinet members are just as much in the dark. They’re not quite sure about the “five tests” we keep hearing about, or what firm criteria would be used to judge them. They suspect there’s a sixth test: the opinion polls, still overwhelmingly supportive of a longer lockdown. So if you see ministers getting angry when asked about an exit strategy, this is why. They have no answer to give.’
Maybe the journalists are asking the wrong question. We weren’t ‘eased’ into the lockdown, so why do we need to be ‘eased’ out of it? Isn’t the problem now how to persuade a fearful and agoraphobic population back to work at all? How about asking when the government plans to ease up on its propaganda – Mark Strong’s unrelenting hourly doom-laden #StayHomeSaveLives public health warnings that according to some in Government have been too effective.
The sceptical view that this site aligns with was summed up by Professors Sauer and Siegel yesterday: ‘A social science experiment that has been designed by public health officials who have utterly failed in their duties to prepare the nation for the arrival of a deadly virus. It is a serious mistake to allow the unit responsible for government failure to dictate how to “solve” a problem that is in large part their fault.’
However if you are one who remains convinced by the ‘science’ and you accept the modelling paradigm that made the Prime Minister reverse his policy and enact the lockdown, be prepared for what the most influential public health experts’ exit strategy means. According to the Telegraph, four possible routes are being explored – intermittent social distancing, allowing the healthy and the immune out, ‘seek and destroy’ (waiting until the virus is at a very low level, lifting restrictions and combating the remaining cases through aggressive contact tracing, testing, isolation, and precision quarantine zones) and finally, waiting for a vaccine. These are alternatives that can be summed up by the sceptical as a continued lockdown rebranded as an exit strategy.
If the economy is not to be entirely wrecked, something more pragmatic and immediate is clearly needed. For John Redwood MP, that is a policy ‘which still gives priority to protecting the elderly and vulnerable from the virus, whilst getting more companies trading and more people back to productive work’. You can read his ideas in detail here. In TCW Jill Kirby has also made the case for releasing the low-risk young and letting them get back to work and school as soon as possible.
The difficulties of re-starting a school may be considerably harder than lifting the restrictions. Given absent teachers – terrified far more than is reasonable, thanks to government strategy and the media, especially the BBC – it is not going to be easy, and that’s without unions set on frustrating it. The head teachers’ organisation NAHT, for one, is out and proudly saying it is not lobbying for schools to be re-opened in the summer term. This is the real problem.
Though Jill Kirby correctly argues that few of the retired and over-seventies would resent the young going back to work if they kept their social distance from their older relatives, Gerard Lyons and Iain Duncan Smith, in an article in the Times, argue that ‘unlocking’ based on age groups would not be the best route to kick-starting the economy except in the case of schools and universities. They believe the most effective way would be by economic activity and sector, which has been set out in detail in a paper published by UCL, involving a traffic light system starting on May 1.
The question is whether we need to institute something like this, or lift the lockdown immediately, rely on the public’s voluntary common sense and good behaviour, concentrate on reducing their disproportionate fear, and encourage the government in a more rational, strategic precautionary management of the disease through screening, testing and tracing as we have always argued for? Discuss!