What has become of Britain that it cannot get its Covid strategy right?

Linda J. Dodson

Of late, I’ve been more positive than most about prospects for the UK economy, taking the view that a relatively strong, V-shaped recovery is still eminently possible. Sorry to say that this somewhat Pollyannaish view is not supported by the Government’s persistent wrong-footedness.

I’m not one of those who think we should simply have let the virus rip, but having seemingly adopted that view initially, the Government then belatedly changed its mind, and has been all over the place ever since. A more targeted approach, supported by robust test and trace, was plainly the way to go, but it has eluded us from the start. The curiosity of all this is that the perceived risk from the virus was understandably high at the start, when we didn’t know a lot about it.

We now understand it better, and have got much better at treating it. The risk is correspondingly much lower, yet we are still approaching the problem as if it was still high. It’s all the wrong way around. These failings are not just down to the apparatus of the state, but to political leadership.

Blanket lockdown measures have mercifully been lifted, but we’ve ended up instead with a continued zero risk policy that the Prime Minister has characterised as “whack-a-mole”. This is actually a more apt description than he might care to admit, because the game of whack-a-mole consists of ineffectively trying to annihilate a harmless irritant that then pops up somewhere else – much unnecessary exertion for only the occasional success.

The new quarantine rules seem to epitomise that approach. The French infection rate is admittedly nearly double our own, if you can believe either figure, but in both cases the numbers are so low as to be of only marginal significance.

Again, it makes little sense. Just as the airline and tourist industries were beginning to show signs of life, they are grounded again. It scarcely needs saying that if this carries on, there will be no airline industry to revive. There is only so long that firms can be kept in a coma before the vital organs begin to fail.

Many have decided not to wait until the end of furlough, and are pushing ahead with sweeping redundancy programmes regardless. The downsizing goes way beyond retail and those directly impacted by the crackdown on social interaction. Virtually every sector bar e-commerce is at it, threatening a vicious circle of beggar thy neighbour job cuts as companies collectively seek competitive advantage.

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