Jobocalypse now: the race to lift lockdown

Pint-sized: Pubs with outdoor spaces will be allowed to open for business. © Alamy

Is it time to end the lockdown? As the government rushes to re-open businesses in time for summer, scientists warn that lifting lockdown too quickly could lead to a second wave of the virus.

Over thee million jobs.

That would be the cost of failing to open up businesses in time for summer.

“Christ!” said Boris Johnson.

The prime minister had not quite realised the economic urgency behind the need to lift lockdown.

This led to a group of ministers – now known as the “Save Summer Six” – being tasked with getting life in the UK back to normal by July.

But the British government faces a serious dilemma.

Lift lockdown too quickly and the virus risks spreading again. Return to normal life too slowly and face severe economic consequences for years.

For instance, many businesses in the hospitality sector are on the brink of collapse. “Their key time is the summer,” one senior civil servant told the Sunday Times. “If they can’t get going in July, a lot of them will just shut up shop for good.”

Political editor Tim Shipman revealed that the fear of seeing millions of jobs disappear has led to a change of heart inside Downing Street. While Johnson used to say that the health of the nation must come first, the focus is now squarely on the economy.

The government looks set to allow outdoor marriages, pubs and restaurants to serve in outdoor areas, and hairdressers to re-open. There is also pressure from businesses to reduce the social distance rule from 2m to 1m.

However, the UK has suffered a great deal because of the coronavirus outbreak, and many are blaming the government’s response.

With the R rate appearing to have crept above the number one in some UK regions, and daily new coronavirus infections still above 1,000, scientists and medical experts are sceptical about the plans.

Senior figures in the health sector told the Guardian that the government was using “cheap political rhetoric” instead of providing a clear strategy. Criticising the plan to lift lockdown, one said, “We absolutely don’t want any more relaxation.”

Dr Hans Kluge, director for the WHO European region told the Telegraph that Europe is in danger of suffering a deadlier second wave of the virus. He said, “This is not a time for celebration, it’s a time for preparation.”

But after losing a lot of political capital over the last few months, Boris Johnson is desperate to make the return to normality a success.

So, is it really time to end the lockdown?

Unlock?

Yes. Though the UK has struggled with this dangerous new virus, the country has upped its testing capacity and hospitals are receiving fewer Covid-19 patients each day. Though the virus has not been completely eliminated, we have to live with it until there is a vaccine. Enough damage has already been caused – job losses and a summer of economic desperation will only lead to more misery.

No. The government was supposed to be “following the science”. But infection rates in the UK are still high and many medical professionals say that it is too dangerous to ease lock down. A strong economy only makes sense if there are people to benefit from it. The government should continue to protect businesses affected by the pandemic until the R rate is down and track and trace is in place.

You Decide

  1. Would you feel safe going out to a restaurant in the UK?
  2. Do you think that people are no longer as frightened by the virus as they were a month or so ago?

Activities

  1. If the world never goes back to “normal”, what new jobs do you think will appear? Make a list of three that you would like to do.
  2. Pretend you are the owner of an empty plot of land. Draw up plans for the sort of business you would set up to make a livelihood in the age of social distancing.

Some People Say...

“The first wealth is health.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), American poet and essayist

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The UK has the world’s second-highest Covid-19 death rate per million people. On one day last week, it recorded more deaths from the virus than every other country in Europe combined. A senior scientist who advises the government has gone on record saying that nationwide lockdown should have started earlier and that the delay has cost “many lives”.
What do we not know?
We do not know whether people will behave normally once the economy opens back up. Many will still be scared of catching the virus. This could lead to lower spending, less holiday, and less socialising – all of which would harm the economy. We do not know how severe the threat of a second wave really is.

Word Watch

Hospitality sector
Theme parks, pubs, bars, restaurants, and hotels. They account for about 5% of the UK economy and 10% of its employment.
Civil servant
Bureaucrat (someone who works for the state) and is responsible for putting government policy into place.
R rate
The “R” stands for reproduction. The rate at which infections spread throughout a population. When it is below one, less people are being infected than currently have the disease. When it is above one, the virus will be spreading quickly – something that everyone wants to avoid.
WHO
The World Health Organisation. A branch of the United Nations established in 1948 to improve global healthcare.
Political capital
The idea that politicians’ popularity is their currency. When a politician or political party makes mistakes, they lose trust and thus political capital.
Track and trace
A system that ensures that everyone with symptoms can be quickly tested and their contacts notified and told to isolate, so as to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Subjects

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