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Express & Star comment: Economy-led decision

By Star Comment | Opinions | Published:

In the end, it wasn’t the science that led decision-making, it was the economy.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson

While the risk of infection from Covid-19 remains greater than it did during the early part of the year, Conservatives and Labour politicians are agreed that an array of restrictions should be lifted. What happens next is in our own hands, to some extent.

We ought to view the Prime Minister’s statement with a hint of realism. Since his advisor travelled to Barnard Castle, since people descended on beaches and parks en masse, and since protestors took to the streets, lockdown has been over in all but name.

The British public has behaved impeccably, in the main, during an unprecedented 12 weeks. Now it is time to get back to work, but to do so responsibly.

One of the biggest changes to lockdown isn’t the switch from two metres to one metre. In truth, during recent weeks many have been inching closer to others, the gap has been falling. The biggest difference is that we’re moving away from mandated social distancing to guidance, where common sense is the underlying principle. We must keep our wits about us and remember not to take chances. We must remain as far apart as possible – if there is space, then two metres is fine – so as to avoid the spread of infections.

The Government has acted before an earthquake of business closures and redundancies, although many of those might still happen. In hospitality, leisure and entertainment, sectors affected by yesterday’s announcement, business owners will have to switch to new ways of trading. Restaurants that used to make between 8-15 per cent profit must adapt, change menus, think again about the number of staff and find ways to make that margin from a vastly reduced footfall.

Leisure industries, including cinemas, museums and other attractions, must also invest resources into making sure people do not sit or stand too close to one another. As consumers, we must be cautious not to moan too loudly about restrictions, not to give stressed staff a hard time, not to expect the land that we left behind when Covid-19 struck. We can all play our part by maintaining social distancing unless or until a vaccine is found.

There are other sectors that do not have the opportunity to trade. Nightclubs, concert halls, theatres, sporting venues, gyms and other premises will remain closed. It is imperative that Chancellor Rishi Sunak addresses their plight now, lest they all fail. Those industries rely on ticket sales and with a Government imposed restriction on trade the least they might expect is Government support. If Mr Sunak does not intervene, he will lose further tax receipts and have to pay out additional universal credit as successful industries go to the wall through lack of Government support.

As we look around the world, we can observe other nations that have come out of lockdown but gone into a second wave. In Germany, a meat processing plant has been shut after more than 1,500 employees tested positive. Around 16,500 jobs are at risk. In New Zealand, failed immigration controls led to the return of a virus that had been quashed. In South Korea, Spain and Israel, more cases are emerging because of errors or complacency on the part of authorities and citizens.

Britain entered lockdown in shock but adhered to the regulations with gusto, particularly during the first two months. Now we must show similar discipline and vigour as we emerge.

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