Groundhog lockdown

By Simon Gentry

The good news is that we will be released in a semi-free sort of way to spend time with at least part of our families over the Christmas break.  The bad news is that the restrictions many are living under are going to remain tight before the festive break and will tighten up afterwards, probably until the national vaccination programme is well under way in late January or February.

The cost of the ongoing partial lockdowns continues to rise with many in HM Treasury and indeed on the backbenches of the Conservative Party growing more worried about with each passing week.  It had looked for a while like these concerns would bubble over and force a change in strategy after Christmas with a move to ‘shield and protect’, but the good news about the three leading vaccines has proved to be a shot in the arm (sorry!) for those who believe the lockdown approach is not only the most viable, but also the most moral.

Downing Street, the Cabinet Office and the Department of Health are now preparing to try to explain a revised and complicated three-tier system to a public weary of constantly changing rules and local authorities tired of trying to keep enforcing them.  A minority of backbench MPs, meanwhile, are adding to the pressure and demanding to see the cost-benefit analysis that we are told underpins the decisions the government is making. 

The government believes that its ‘hold on till the vaccine arrives’ strategy is viable and that there are no real alternatives.  They are delighted that as a country we’ve bought something like 350 million doses, more than the whole EU and second only to the US.  They are even more delighted – and this is a very big deal – that AstraZeneca have said they will make no profit on the vaccine.  It will be a gift from them and the taxpayers who fund the University of Oxford’s research, to the world.  It’s an extraordinary gesture. 

Until the mass roll-out of the vaccines begins however, the government will remain caught in a cycle of appeals for people to obey the rules, poor economic news, pressure from those who worry about the economic cost, and a daily death toll that keeps rising.