COVID-19 UK Political Analysis by Tim Hames – 15th January 2021

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Tougher Times? Options if Ministers feel the lockdown must tighten.

About ten days into Lockdown III and the debate within the scientific community at least is less about the date at which restrictions might be eased but instead whether and to what extent they should be tightened in the weeks ahead. Scotland has announced steps in this direction. The numbers of new cases, hospital admissions and deaths are now considerably higher than was believed to be true for March/April last year and are still rising in some places. By next week, the political and public debate about whether the lockdown in England needs to be tougher might intensify. The Home Secretary appeared to concede that possibility in an interview (although she may not have meant to do so).

The level of public compliance this time when compared with the first lockdown has clearly disturbed ministers and officials. All of the available measures, such as the Google and Apple mobility statistics and the numbers on public transport, show more activity now than then. In fairness to the population, the rules as they stand today, while more restrictive than those of last November, are different and softer to those of March 2020 and the psychology of fear that existed when the virus first surfaced is not the same now that our society has spent the better part of a year having to adapt to the outbreak. The question for those who set policy is, therefore, whether simply urging people to be more cautious within the rules is enough, or whether the restrictions have to be changed.

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