The UK Has Another Lockdown. But Does It Have A Plan?

The question on everyone’s lips is: what is the government’s exit strategy?

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Lockdown, Cont.

Fresh from a G7 conference call with Donald Trump and chairing cabinet for the first time, de facto acting PM Dominic Raab was oozing confidence at today’s Downing Street briefing on coronavirus.

He may be Boris Johnson’s stand-in but the foreign secretary has settled into his role as temporary topdog and, with apparent rave reviews from cabinet colleagues, his stock as a future leader has rocketed.

He delivered the long-expected news there will be a three-week extension to the lockdown.

‌But the most intriguing response was not on domestic matters, but on whether there will be an international reckoning with China over Covid-19′s spread.

Despite reports Raab had promised Beijing earlier this week he would not “politicise” the outbreak, he was eyebrow-raisingly bullish.

It cannot be “business as usual”, he said, adding: “I think there absolutely needs to be a very, very deep dive after the event review of the lessons – including of the outbreak of the virus – and I don’t think we can flinch from that at all, it needs to be driven by the science.”

It’s hard to believe, given the US chaired today’s G7 meeting, that the US-UK “special relationship” (don’t forget Britain is in the middle of trade deal talks with Washington) played no part in this change of tone.

The president shocked everyone when he cut off funding to the World Health Organisation, claiming it had mismanaged the response and covered up for China.

Number 10 has been clear the UK has no plans to follow suit, but this shot across the bows suggests Raab will be guided by more than the science.

The spring in Raab’s step could not detract from the elephant in the room, however.

The question on everyone’s lips is: what is the government’s exit strategy?
Or as another ambitious acting leader, the Lib Dems’ Ed Davey, put it: “If ministers are asking people to stay at home, people are right to be asking ministers to get a grip on the crisis.”

Chief scientific officer Patrick Vallance bluntly stated “the way out of this is vaccines and therapeutics”.

But with a vaccine not likely to come before September, people increasingly want to know when the lockdown will be eased, not least since Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, yesterday made it clear we were “probably” witnessing the peak of the outbreak.

With testing and tracing measures lagging behind other countries, however, it is thought the lockdown will last until at least mid-May so as to avoid a second outbreak.

Asked what Number 10′s approach would be, Raab suggested there may be “a transition” from the lockdown which “could be calibrated in different ways” – which very much suggests that, while he could one day be PM for real, right now he is not a man with a plan.

The UK's coronavirus lockdown has been extended by three weeks.
The UK's coronavirus lockdown has been extended by three weeks.
Jeff J Mitchell via Getty Images

Quote Of The Day

“If we carry on taking lumps out of each other we are heading for a loss at the next general election.”

– Labour leader Keir Starmer on the factional warfare which continues to engulf his party.

Cheat Sheet

The number of people who have died in UK hospitals after contracting coronavirus has risen by 861 in 24 hours. It brings the working total to 13,729.

Coronavirus is killing men at double the rate of women in England and Wales, new figures published by the ONS show. The data also revealed that 91% of deaths related to the virus recorded in March involved at least one pre-existing condition.‌

Labour Party staff in the union GMB backed a motion saying they have no confidence in general secretary Jennie Formby after a controversial leaked report on anti-Semitism named staff and Jewish complainants. It has sparked a row with rival union Unite.

Health secretary Matt Hancock got into a spat with journalists after he was criticised over the handling of the crisis in care homes. “Let me please, let me finish the answer,” he snapped at the BBC’s Nick Robinson on Radio 4′s Today programme when he was asked about a lack of PPE and testing. “Frankly the way questions are being asked by journalists irritates a lot of the public at the moment,” he later told Talk Radio.

What I’m Reading

After coronavirus, Boris Johnson’s Tories will be a very different party – Martin Kettle/The Guardian


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