Despite the UK lockdown being extended for another three weeks, much of the focus is starting to shift to the exit strategy; when and how might we see some of the restrictions lifted?
The UK Government is alive to this and the need to give citizens a sense that there is “light at the end of the tunnel” as Dominic Raab put it in yesterday’s briefing.
The extent to which epidemiological or behavioural theory is driving the government has been much debated, with the UK’s relatively slow move towards social distancing and then lockdown supposedly driven by fears of ‘behavioural fatigue’ if measures were put in place for too long.
An end in sight?
Understandably, however, it is to our neighbours in mainland Europe that the Government may look for ideas on exiting lockdown, with most countries a few weeks ahead of the UK in dealing with Covid-19.
On Wednesday the European Commission put forward a “roadmap for common lifting of containment measures” to provide a pan-EU standard, but individual member states had already moved to announce partial relaxations with some already reopening schools and retail.
A full list of current exit strategies is detailed below.
What does it mean for the UK?
From the measures announced, it’s clear that there are some similarities among those countries beginning to ease lockdown, with incremental lifting of restrictions focused on schools and some retail a common approach. It is logical to think the UK will follow suit.
What is interesting is that no country is adopting a demographic-based approach, such as releasing young people from lockdown first, a potential measure widely covered in the UK press following a paper from the University of Warwick’s Department of Economics.
The big question then becomes when lockdown might be eased in the UK. With Boris Johnson out of action for a few weeks making his own recovery from Coronavirus, people are beginning to look towards the bank holiday on the 8th May for his return and an announcement about easing the lockdown.
This week Dominic Raab also outlined five assessment points that the government will use before any lockdown can be lifted. These are:
- that the NHS has sufficient capacity to cope with the number of coronavirus patients across the UK;
- that there is a sustained fall in the death rates from Coronavirus;
- that data shows infection rates are decreasing to a ‘manageable level’;
- that testing capacity and the quantities of PPE can meet any future demand;
- and that any adjustment to the measures will not risk a second peak in infections.
As usual in Government, there will be a conflict between Departments looking to exert influence – between the Treasury pushing the relaxation argument to minimise the economic damage and the Department of Health and Social Care who will be understandably cautious about the public health impact.
However, one of the biggest drivers on the timing just might be the PM’s personal journey back to full health.
It will need his authority to balance competing Ministers and Departments and his public profile to deliver effective cut-through to a nation that has been isolated for, by that time, six weeks.
Lockdown Europe: how other countries are relaxing measures
- From 14 April, small shops, DIY stores and garden centres allowed to reopen
- From 1 May, all shops, shopping centres and hairdressers will be allowed to reopen
- Restaurants, hotels and other service providers will probably be able to open gradually from mid-May.
- Outdoor sport such as tennis, golf and athletics from 1 May
- Day care centres and schools for children up to the age of 11 reopened from 14 April with social distancing measures in place.
- Middle and high school-age students will continue to learn remotely and are expected to return to classrooms on May 10.
- No reopening of shops or other businesses yet but discussions starting to turn to that.
- Schools and childcare to begin reopening from 11 May
- Social distancing rules to stay in place until at least 3 May, with use of face masks recommended in shops and on public transport.
- Shops up to 800 square metres (8,600 sq ft) to potentially reopen from w/c 20th April provided they have “plans to maintain hygiene”.
- Car dealers, bicycle shops and bookstores can all reopen, regardless of their size.
- Hairdressers will be allowed to open their doors from 4 May, provided they too comply with strict hygiene measures.
- Schools to gradually start to reopen from 4 May with new safety measures for breaks and school buses, and priority given to those students with exams.
- Large public gatherings including religious services will remain banned until 31 August.
- Bars, cafes, restaurants, cinemas and music venues will all remain closed.
- Some regions have reopened bookshops and children’s clothing stores from 14 April
- Ursula von der Leyen set out a roadmap on Wednesday for a gradual lifting of restrictions across the EU but made clear it was not a signal to act immediately.
- She set out key conditions involving a significant decrease in the spread of Covid-19, capacity in the health system, surveillance and monitoring.
- The key features of a gradual lifting that the Commission recommends are:
- Action should be gradual
- General measures should progressively be replaced by targeted ones. E.g. protecting the most vulnerable for longer; facilitating the gradual return of necessary economic activities; intensifying regular cleaning and disinfection of transport hubs, shops and workplaces etc.
- Internal border controls should be lifted in a coordinated manner.
- The re-start of economic activity should be phased-in; the entire population should not return to the workplace at the same time.
- Gatherings of people should be progressively permitted, taking into account the specificities of different categories of activity, such as:
- Schools and universities;
- Commercial activity (retail) with possible gradation;
- Social activity measures (restaurants, cafes) with possible gradation;
- Mass gatherings
- Efforts to prevent the spread of the virus should be sustained
- Action should be continuously monitored