The Government’s Dilemma | Jake Scott

Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted recently that we are “past the peak” – but we are not out of the woods yet. Given this, the question is inevitably turning to the next major challenge, which is of course ending the lockdown. Almost every single country is approaching this challenge differently: Germany has brought itself out of lockdown, but their Reproductive Integer (R) has returned to 1.0, meaning that for every person who has coronavirus, they are statistically going to pass it onto to one other person; the United States has been the most bullish (naturally), with multiple states lifting their lockdown as more than 30,000,000 (yes, thirty million) workers apply for unemployment benefits; and South Korea has managed to avoid a lockdown altogether, but remains strictly socially distant (of course, the cultural differences must be remembered, but that only goes so far).

 

The country is going to start pulling itself out of lockdown eventually, with or without the government’s approval. Of course, public approval is still in favour of the measures – 70% are in agreement – but this itself has declined. 95% were in favour of the measures when they began a month ago. If this slide continues apace, the government only has another few weeks before public opinion turns against them.

Of course, polling tells half the story. The political appetite for continuing the lockdown is diminishing, and all you need to do to know that is take a walk down any high street in the country, or nip into any of that high street’s shops. A month ago, they would be nearly empty, with people taking a wide berth between each other; now, such niceties are reserved for the queue into the shops, but once in, much of the old habits have returned – with the added judgemental few, tutting in their self-righteousness.

The real dilemma is whether the government wants to be in control of such developments. If it lags far enough behind, then the political capital it has accrued in this crisis (which, it must be admitted, is considerable) will start to diminish. If it races ahead, the blame for the potential loss of life will be placed squarely at its door, reasonably or otherwise. But where the country leads, the government must follow.


Photo by Mark Oliver on Flickr. 

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