The risk of a second lockdown exposes the UK government’s failures on Covid-19

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Boris Johnson speaks at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Foreign and Commonwealth office on September 15, 2020.

Boris Johnson failed to use the first lockdown to build enough resilience to prevent a second. 

One and a half million people across Newcastle, Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Gateshead, County Durham and Sunderland will face bans on mixing with other households and a 10pm curfew from midnight tonight in an attempt to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

Is the United Kingdom heading for a second lockdown? Health minister Ed Argar has denied that a two-week nationwide lockdown is on the cards, and Downing Street remains keen to avoid a second shutdown. 

But in many ways, whether we are or aren’t in lockdown now is a matter of degree, and across large parts of the country we are, already, in a second lockdown, with 10 million people under some new form of restriction since the loosening of the first began. The central problem remains unchanged – that we don’t at present have a means to prevent the spread of the novel pandemic other than lockdowns and self-isolation. 

The social, physical and mental consequences of lockdowns are themselves unsustainable, and in practice, you cannot prevent people engaging in illicit social contacts, any more than abstinence is a sustainable or deliverable way to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections. States far more repressive than the United Kingdom have tried and failed.

But the unique threat of the novel coronavirus is not in its deadliness, or even in the fact we still don’t know what the long-term prognosis for people who have had it is, or whether or not having had it confers lasting immunity. It is in what an uncontrolled outbreak does to healthcare capacity – that’s the challenge we’ve seen in Italy, in parts of the United States and may now again be seeing in Israel.

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To the extent that lockdowns have a value, it is in buying time to think, act, prepare and build resilience. But we have not done so in a manner sufficient to allow the United Kingdom to forego lockdowns, instead preferring to focus our political energies on reforming the civil service and unpicking the Northern Ireland protocol, both aims which, whatever you think of them, could surely have been deferred by a year. 

Now, regardless of whether a second lockdown happens formally or piecemeal, with different bits of the country being shut down, the fate of large parts of the country is already a second lockdown: and it’s far from certain that the government will use it any better or more effectively than they did the first.

JONATHAN BUCKMASTER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images.

Boris Johnson speaks at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Foreign and Commonwealth office on September 15, 2020.
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Source:: New Statesman

      

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