COVID-19 UK Political Analysis – 26th February 2021Download a PDF of this article
Take Two. A quite different strategy for lifting the lockdown this time.
He said that he intended to be cautious. He clearly meant it. With the exception of the willingness to see the vast bulk of schoolchildren return to their classrooms on or about March 8th – a decision that will provide some serious logistical challenges – the Prime Minister has opted for an extremely careful approach to lifting the lockdown. This has been met with some discontent within the ranks of his own parliamentary party but the balance of available opinion poll evidence suggests that a majority of the public is willing to continue to be extremely patient. The young are more restless than the old, but for now ministers and officials are confident that compliance will be sufficiently high.
At one level, the events of this week feel much like that witnessed during the Spring of last year when after the better part of six weeks of a national lockdown, the Government published a roadmap in early May which set out how restrictions would be eased over the next two months. The order of the new lifting of the lockdown is indeed really very similar to then, with schools assuming priority, then non-essential retail, then most of the hospitality and leisure sector and finally international travel. There are, though, important if subtle differences between then and now both in terms of political calculation and policy callibration. Partly this is the harsh consequence of experience.
The first lockdown was followed by an easing that initially appeared to be faring well but which soon was struck by a second wave of the virus when it surged in mid-September. This was followed by a second lockdown in England which once lifted was felled by a new virus strain. The decisions set out on Monday are aimed to avoid history repeating itself.