Boris Johnson will speak to the Commons this afternoon and to the nation this evening about the Government’s latest Coronavirus measures. We wait to see exactly what he will announce, but the thrust of his proposals seems clear enough. Essentially, he wants to separate work and home life.
The Prime Minister aims to keep work going in as normal a way as possible – with face covers, hand-washing and social distancing in place to help make this possible. This is government “putting its arms” around the economy, to borrow a phrase he likes to use. It is the part of the policy aimed at protecting livelihoods.
Meanwhile, home life and leisure will take the strain of reducing the growth in Covid-19 cases. There is a rule of six. Pubs and restaurants will shut at 10pm. There will be marshalls as well as fines. Not to mention lockdowns – like those currently now in place in Merseyside, Greater Manchester, Birmingham and elsewhere. This is the half of the policy intended to save lives.
Whether this scheme will last long is doubtful. We’ve explained previously on this site why many schools may not stay open fully, or may close altogether. That will have a knock-on effect on the economy, since parents with younger children will often have no alternative but to stay at home, and provide the childcare themselves.
Furthermore, the division between work, home and leisure isn’t always clear. The first and third meet in retail: some shopping is leisure; all staffing is work. As the debate within government over the new 10pm closing time for pubs, restaurants and outlets indicates, non-essential shopping is vulnerable to new closures. And Ministers are already backing off the push to get workers to return to offices (since they will be more relucant to use public transport).
It looks as though we’re on the way to another national lockdown – in effect, if most cities are locked down; or formally, if the Government eventually declares one. Tomorrow, in the wake of the Prime Minister’s broadcast, we will return to the big questions.
Such as: what’s the fundamental aim of the policy? If it is no longer to protect the NHS, is it to suppress the virus? If so, are the healthcare trade-offs that would arise from such a policy worthwhile – let alone the wider economic ones? Why isn’t testing and tracing, rather than lockdowns, taking the strain of reducing the disease, as intended? For today, we want to probe what happened yesterday during Matt Hancock’s Commons statement.
Chris Grayling, Greg Clark, Harriet Baldwin, Simon Fell, Simon Clarke, Alec Shelbrooke, Anthony Browne, Graham Brady, Andrew Percy, Jason McCartney, Shaun Bailey, Marco Longhi, Edward Leigh, Pauline Latham, Bernard Jenkin, Duncan Baker, James Davies, William Wragg, Steve Brine, and Anne-Marie Trevelyan spoke.
Of these, Grayling, Clarke, Brady, Leigh, Latham, Baker, Wragg and Brine were all, to varying degrees, hostile to another national lockdown. Browne’s question was perhaps in broadly the same camp. We are beginning to see resistence to new national shutdowns intensify on the Conservative backbenches.