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The UK was late going into lockdown and is now coming out too fast

The expansion of school openings to include Reception and Year 6 students is a huge gamble when we still aren’t sure how Covid-19 affects children, says Baroness Jones | Credit: PA Images

4 min read

Jacob Rees-Mogg has told MPs that they must set an example and return to work, but the best example MPs could set is to carry on working from home.

The UK was late going into lockdown and is coming out too fast.

These two mistakes are linked by more than a disastrous government who ignored care homes, didn’t provide enough PPE and delayed mass testing. It is because we were too late going into lockdown that we are now easing restrictions while there are over 400 deaths and 2000 new (registered) infections.

The result is likely to be further deaths and even more economic disaster, as the second wave hits us.

The reason given for delaying lockdown and creating one of the highest death rates in the world was that people could only stomach a lockdown for a few weeks, so we had to “make the right decision at the right time”.

It was flawed logic that largely went unchallenged.

Yet common sense tells us that the higher the infection curve, the longer it will take to bring it down.  If a country has a thousand new infections and the reproduction rate (R) is a positive 0.5, then the rapid drop to fewer than a hundred infections is only a few steps away.

A system of track, trace and support would reduce the R even further.

Given that regional differences in the R rate will mean a very low likelihood of infection in many areas, there is every reason for local authorities to set up their own systems of testing and reporting.

This should be done before the lockdown ends and must stay in place to handle any flare ups.

The ONS survey estimates that in the two weeks up to the 10th May the UK had around 148,000 people with the infection.

The optimists point out that this means a 1 in 400 chance of coming into contact with someone who has it and the chances getting less with every week.

The realists look at the individual lives of a 148,000 people, many of whom won’t know they have the disease, and see them easing into cars, or onto buses and meeting work colleagues for the first time in weeks.

Another study suggests that the R rate has plummeted in London to 0.4 as people in the capital became ultra-cautious due to the high infection and death rates.

Elsewhere in the country it is still as high as 0.8. We need to keep a close eye on those figures in the coming weeks, especially the large swathes of London where 40% of households don’t own a car.

I admit that I’m no epidemiologist and that the detail of the R may reveal a lot of information about infections in care homes distorting the general figure, but let’s have the debate.

Let us see the modelling and the government can convince me that the R will either not rise as lockdown eases.

Even if the R fails to fall further, then the economic cost will actually be prolonged as it takes us longer to bring the numbers down. It will also cost many people their health and their lives.

The expansion of school openings to include Reception and Year 6 students is a huge gamble when we still aren’t sure how Covid-19 affects children.

We see that it can cause an extreme inflammatory condition, for example, but have very little understanding of who gets it and why. We know that in rare cases it can be fatal. 

Children spread Covid-19 less than adults, but it is unclear how much less.

I have complete sympathy with those unions advising their members not to trust this government with decisions about their health. Eton and other private schools attended by the children of Conservative MPs seem certain to stay shut till September.

If the return goes ahead, then schools need PPE & training in its use; hand washing stations throughout the school; staggered arrivals and departures; very reduced class sizes; constant cleaning of all surfaces; frequent testing of staff for infection; transport to the school that is safe (not a crowded bus); a locally run contact tracing & isolation plan in place for outbreaks and parents taking their children’s temperature testing before they get to school.

Jacob Rees-Mogg has told MPs that they must set an example and return to work, but the best example MPs could set is to carry on working from home.

A virtual parliament and remote voting has its downsides but working from home is clearly possible for MPs and peers.

Please remember that this is the government who allowed over 12,500 Covid-19 related deaths in care homes, according to the latest ONS figures.

Don’t trust them with your health.

If you can work from home, do it! If your employer wants you back, then make sure it is safe.

Don’t let them bully you into a second wave of infections and an even bigger economic disaster.


Baroness Jones is a Green Party member of the House of Lords

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