Andrew Griffith is MP for Arundel & South Downs and is the former Chief Business Adviser to Boris Johnson.
The people of Britain deserve huge credit for the extraordinary levels of compliance with the ‘lock down’. Unprecedented challenges necessitated extraordinary measures, and this Government will be seen to have used good judgement in terms of what was required – even if lovers of liberty such as myself are discomforted by the way society has so readily accepted the restrictions.
In my rural constituency in West Sussex, the most graphic illustration is the striking volume of bird song which would otherwise be drowned out by road and aviation noise. Footpaths in the South Downs National Park that are normally heavily trafficked have the first shoots of a grass covering, and our small market town high streets resemble film sets whose whole cast and crew have been given the day off.
All of which throws into sharp relief the day and night activity in our hospitals where shifts start and finish, and the battle for life – too often sadly lost – goes on relentlessly.
The bare numbers conceal the scale of human tragedy. The UK teeters between 700 and a thousand UK deaths a day. That’s the equivalent of a fully laden Airbus A320 crashing with no survivors every four to six hours. Each death is someone’s parent, child or loved one.
It’s too early to call the peak, but it would perhaps be ironic if the moment of judgement falls on St George’s Day – the 23rd April – slaying our own metaphorical dragon of the battle with this disease, though true victory here clearly involves more of a marathon.
However, as Ministers rightly turn to contemplating how the lockdown could end and the process of rebuilding the economy starts, we should avoid talking about this eventuality as if it is a singular or binary event. Anyone who has run a large complex organisation, machine or process knows that in practice a restart needs to be phased to move steadily “through the gears”.
We should also recognise that this may require moments of even more prescriptive guidance rather than an immediate general loosening. To untie the knot, not every part of society or the economy can pull on the thread at exactly the same time. Co-ordination of who pulls where and when may be needed.
To kick off the restart debate on a practical level, here are five areas to consider for the first phase of any amendment to the current restrictions. They are based on some of the real-world problems that my constituents are facing or will increasingly face over time:
- Food and plant growers, food processing companies, associated wholesalers and retailers (including Garden Centres) and their supply chain as well as vet practices.
- Second-line health facilities such as dentists, opticians, chiropodists and chiropracters
- Nurseries for children of pre-school age.
- Waste and recycling handling, including local authority-run facilities for householders
- The construction industry, builders’ merchants and all outdoor and associated ‘trades’ as well as home hardware stores.
In some cases, these activities are already on the list of exemptions, but may have closed before definitive guidance was given, or have been impacted by problems elsewhere in their supply chain.
Clearly in all cases – as has been pioneered successfully by the supermarkets – there will need to be strict social distancing guidelines and potentially limits on the number of people present in any enclosed space at a particular time.
To date, the Government has rightly been bold and decisive. The next stage in restarting, the country will require it to be nimble and creative as well.