We need to discuss the way out of lockdown

Photo by DDP on Unsplash

The Government’s reluctance to discuss an exit strategy from Covid-19 suggests it’s trying to hide something, yet again. The public is getting fidgety and wants to know what strategies might surface. But we also want to protect our loved ones and prevent the collapse of the NHS. It’s not unreasonable to expect that when these strategies emerge, they should be based on actual science.

So far in this pandemic, politics has trumped science at every turn and no amount of Thursday-night clapping of our health and social care workers can cover that up. Ideology has consistently come before public health expertise: from the procurement of protective equipment, ventilators and tests, to the herd-immunity response and manipulation of official death rates. And now we discover that Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s chief strategist, is part of the scientific body advising the government on the crisis. My colleague Dr Stella Perrott foretold this development only three weeks ago in her article, “Scientific authority, whose data counts”?

Scientific Authority, whose data counts

Stella Perrot, 9 April

At a time of historically low levels of trust in our politicians, the lack of transparency around everything to do with Covid-19 has raised a suspicion that further undermines our trust in the Government’s response. Covid-19 is a global pandemic that demands an intelligent, evidence-based, joined-up response: not an isolationist and separate British exit strategy, nor one determined by British party politics. Science, like the pandemic, doesn’t respect geographical borders or political ideology. We are all in this together and we must insist that our government reflects this and joins the international cooperation. This means learning from countries like New Zealand, Ireland and Germany and devising an exit strategy that will let everyone out from lockdown (regardless of age or disability) on a gradual, scientific and medically scrutinised basis.

In the UK, the ‘getting the economy back on its feet’ soundbite-strategy may resonate with businesses, but it’s unlikely to resonate with a public that’s going stir-crazy in the small homes and dense living spaces most of the population endure. Exit strategies devised in Westminster need to be more nuanced to gain voluntary public acceptance. Something like blanket cocooning of the vulnerable and ‘elderly’ may temporarily grab the headlines, but as Europe expands its successful test, trace, isolate and treat approach, people will increasingly question why this is not happening here in the UK.

In areas where regional government is the norm, the importance of local and regional strategies is recognised both in the UK and abroad. We shouldn’t overlook the contribution that individual communities could make to devising pragmatic solutions to exiting lockdown. In Germany, whose management of the coronavirus crisis is viewed by many as exemplary, the exit strategy is interpreted flexibly to accommodate regional and local circumstances. Could our own communities contribute to a joined-up strategy by agreeing, sharing and implementing exit plans informed by local views, public health advice and international guidance? Online citizens’ forums would provide a useful starting point. Maybe now is the time for citizens to take the initiative and for individual communities to think through how a local exit strategy might work. Test, trace, track and isolate. After all, what might be sensible for Leeds and Hull could be over-the-top for Ripponden or Thirsk.