Whenever you embark on a significant undertaking, whether that’s as a country, a community, a company or even a family, you always think about how, why and when you’ll end it and move on.
Or, at least, you usually do. The Government’s approach to the coronavirus pandemic has been notable by the absence of a clear exit strategy.
We really need to avoid continuous lockdowns, school closures and stopping people from travelling to work. I don’t need to tell you the incredibly damaging impact that would have on our physical and mental health, not to mention our finances and the economy.
That’s why we, a cross-party group of MPs and scientists, have put together a plan to create a ‘Covid-secure’ UK. Our principle is that by focusing on saving as many lives as possible in the immediate term, we will also save jobs and be able to open up the economy sustainably. We can’t ignore the vulnerable and the elderly in favour of our economy, or vice versa.
Otherwise, we face developing a ‘boom and bust’ mentality for our economy where we relax restrictions too soon, open everything back up, only to have to bring back extreme measures months later. That’s already happening in parts of the UK. And it will keep happening, for months if not years, if we don’t start to think and act more strategically. Businesses in our communities deserve better.
We need to do three things: control the virus; suppress its transmission; and then begin to eliminate it.
To control the virus we have to get the R number below 1 as soon as possible. That means fixing test, trace and isolate. Not bicker over the figures, actually fix it once and for all by owning up to mistakes and problems.
And we need to give local authorities our trust and the power to deliver locally-led test and trace. We’re doing it in Oxfordshire already.
Doing that gives us time to nationally develop test and quarantine capability at all UK entry points (including ports, airports and international rail stations).
Taking control of the situation in that way, getting the R below 1, means that we’ll be in a position to suppress the virus. That means keeping lockdown measures in place until the number of new cases drops below 10 per million of the population.
We want to open up the economy, it’s so important. I hear from constituents – small business owners, workers and others – every day desperately worried about their economic situation. I want them to go through those anxieties as few times as possible. With functional test and trace in place, which is locally led, plus the ability to catch new cases at the UK’s borders, we’ll be able to open up the economy far more.
And we’ll be far more likely to be able to keep it open. Certainty for businesses is really important – at the moment they have none.
Something else the Government needs to look at is compliance with isolation rules. It’s so important that financial support for anyone self-isolating is there, to boost this. Trust is breaking down – let’s bring the daily press briefings back to keep the public up to date.
Then we get to the elimination phase. At the moment, it feels like the Government is waiting around for this step to happen and fix everything in one fell swoop.
I’d love it if that would happen too, believe me!
If and when we get a vaccine, sadly that won’t be it.
Just listen to the experts – we heard in the APPG on Coronavirus last week that putting all our faith in a ‘silver bullet’ vaccine would be a big mistake. For one, the Government’s already trying to manage our expectations over how many of us will actually get it straight away. And we don’t know how effective it will be.
So let’s be hopeful, but let’s also be methodical and strategic. It’s not as exciting as ‘Operation Moonshot’ or other schemes, but it will actually work.
We can’t let ‘whack-a-mole’ be the Government’s overriding approach to this crisis forever. We need to stop thinking about this as a false ‘balance’ between saving lives or our economy.