Article 18

Forget Local Lockdowns . . .

In his Daily Telegraph article of 3/7/20 entitled ‘Forget local lockdowns, we should be lifting restrictions in the not spots’, Fraser Nelson expresses his sympathy for Sir Peter Soulsby ‘the energetic Mayor of Leicester who ‘has been told to lockdown again just in case’ and states that ‘this blunt tool has been used because Boris Johnson felt he had no other choice, Professor Ferguson having said at the outset that a quarter of a million people were going to die if he didn’t close the economy’; that ‘the list of mistakes then made, is long and humiliating’; but that ‘there has been one big success with Britain’s Covid-19 testing capability now pushing 300,000 a day’; that ‘we can now forget about the R-number which has been stuck in the same range (between 0.6 and 1) since lockdown began’; that ‘we now have firm tests to judge Covid-19  the German way, by looking at new weekly infections in local areas per 100,000 of population’; that ‘Germany’s danger zone is 50 per 100,000’; that ‘the only part of England which fails this test is Leicester at 130’; that ‘for the first time we have figures for the whole country with Bradford at 46, Barnsley at 35’ London at 3 and southwest England virtually Covid-19-free’; and that ‘last week not a single case was recorded in Bath, Portsmouth, Rutland or Torbay’. In view of this, Fraser Nelson records his surprise that ‘so many theatres remain shuttered, offices empty, and schools on a skeleton service’; that ‘ministers have not applied these results to abolish mandatory restrictions and to ask people to be careful as pubs and campsites reopen tomorrow’; that nonetheless so ‘much remains in deep freeze with no theatres, no spectator football, no swimming pools, no meetings of more than six unrelated people and with return to work being complicated by asking employees to avoid public transport and  to stay at home if the can, despite the continuing economic damage’.

Fraser Nelson then notes that ‘a second spike has not been experienced on the continent’ that ‘this ought to embolden the Prime Minister’; but that ‘he still looks discombobulated – as if unable to understand why, if he implemented such a draconian and costly lockdown, he has so little to show for it’; that ‘meanwhile, the mood in the cabinet is still deeply cautious with at least two of its members wanting to go even further with Leicester to the closing of roads and the barring of trains from stopping at its station’; that ‘the past few months have been so traumatising for the Conservatives that they are minded to move at glacial speed – or just talk about something else’; that ‘it was easier, this week, for the Prime Minister to talk about turning the A1into a dual carriageway than to assessing and repairing the economic damage inflicted by the lockdown’; that ‘it is easy to see why No 10 is despondent’ but that ‘it ought not to overlook the power of the testing tool now in its possession’; that ‘we now know that Covid-19 is a regional virus’; that ‘it pole-axed Lombardy but not Naples which has had fewer deaths than normal this year’; that ‘it struck Stockholm but spared Malmo’; that ‘Paris was hit but most of France  was as safe as Wiltshire’; that ‘even when lockdown ended and people started travelling over Europe again, the virus did not re-start’; that ‘Italy as a country did not need to lockdown’; and that ‘this is experience from which Britain can learn’. Thus, he concludes that ‘local testing means that London, the most powerful economic engine in the country can be put back in motion more quickly’; that ‘the new Covid-19 testing apparatus can provide an early warning system which can sound the alert if infections spike’; that ‘if they do, local restrictions can be added; and that ‘more likely (more realistically) people can be told about the local spike and can react accordingly’; that ‘this is not playing roulette with local peoples’ lives: lockdown does that’; and that ‘this local approach does not inflict pain in parts of the country where the virus has almost vanished’.

He then observes that ‘the pubs and restaurants which open tomorrow will do so wondering if they can make ends meet under this new system – or for how long it will continue’; that ‘others have given up already’; that ‘the Nuffield Theatre in Southampton said yesterday that it is closing for good’; that ‘locally there is no pandemic’; that ‘of the million people who live in the city, just one tested positive for Covid-19 last week’; that ‘the Prime Minister now has the power to speed up the recovery’; that ‘he can press ahead with partial re-opening tomorrow, while being more cautious in places like Leicester and dealing with flare-ups as they arise’; that ‘with much drama and great expense he has built a huge testing tool which offers a faster route out of lockdown’; and he ‘needs the courage to use it’.

I was very pleased to read Fraser Nelson‘s review. However, I would add that if I had been involved in the UK’s pandemic study of 2016 or in Sage, I would have recalled for my colleagues that response-options are either to isolate the infected from the non-infected or the non-infected from the infected; that the former minimises the number involved and the economic damage, while the latter maximises both; that the former is thus the only realistic option; and that adoption of the latter in the form of a generalised lock-down would be a grave mistake, unlikely to be publicly accepted in retrospect.  9/7/20.

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