COVID-19 UK Political Analysis by Tim Hames – 25th September 2020

Three Weeks. Not much time for the PM’s new strategy to succeed.

The set of new restrictions in England that the Prime Minister announced on Tuesday come into force today. In theory, this is a series of measures that will be in place for “up to six months”. In reality, there may require revision after a considerably shorter period.

A week ago, discussions within Whitehall focused on the notion of a “circuit-breaker”, a short, sharp shock of additional restrictions – social and economic – in England that would have the effect of dramatically slowing the rate of new COVID-19 infections, in effect resetting the situation to where it was in mid to late August before the number of new cases started to accelerate again. One particular suggestion was that the most convenient time to implement such a stance would be the October Half Term, which could itself be extended to a fortnight in duration across the board to assist matters.

That notion was, for now, abandoned for a series of reasons. First, mid-October was far too long to wait allowing for the fact that new cases have exceeded ten times the level than they were at their floor in mid-July. Some action was needed earlier than that.

Second, there was a real risk of a serious divergence emerging within the UK as the four different nations appeared set to take not merely marginal but substantial differences in approach with a potentially divisive impact. Finally, there was very strong resistance, not least from the Chancellor and the Treasury, against drastic impositions across much of the hospitality sector that would have been at the core of this strategy if adopted.

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