Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
1 June 2020

By reopening so soon, is England heading for a catastrophe?

The government does not appear to have overcome the scientific and logistical challenges necessary to lifting lockdown measures.

By Stephen Bush

Schools in England have begun reopening today — after a fashion. Is England on the verge of a catastrophic mistake in reopening too early?

Several of the scientists who advise the government have gone public with their concerns that the rate of community transmission is too high to begin safely reopening. The Association of Directors of Public Health have issued a rare public rebuke of the government, saying that the five tests to ease the lockdown have not been met, and calling on the British government to delay reopening until the necessary infrastructure to properly test, trace and isolate new cases is in place.

Ben Walker has looked at the data across comparable countries and his conclusion, too, is that England is embarking upon its reopening at an earlier and therefore riskier point than our European counterparts.

Away from the medical and public health challenges, there are clear logistical challenges that the British government has failed to master — or even, it seems, to appreciate. Parliament is set to return to working as normal from tomorrow, although social distancing will still apply in the House of Commons chamber. But the government is still unclear how exactly votes will be conducted, with the plan to test today a kilometre-long queue for MPs to vote, in advance of the first division tomorrow.

Schools have begun to reopen today, but many have had to remain closed because they have been unable to overcome the difficult logistical barriers to reopening in a socially distanced manner.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday - from the New Statesman. Sign up directly at The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. Sign up directly at Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

The deputy chief medical officers Jonathan van Tam and Jenny Harries have both dismissed the idea that contact tracing will create opportunities for fraudsters. This is hard to reconcile with the money and time that the government has spent, through HMRC and the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), to eliminate tens of thousands of spoof accounts pretending to be the taxman, or the work the NCSC has done with telecommunication companies and the banks to fight the same. We know that fraudsters can and will seek to exploit people by mimicking email messages from “Test and Trace NHS”, which can be done in a matter of minutes.

Content from our partners
What will it take to support green growth in the UK?
Boosting the power of Britain’s creative industries
Strengthening the UK's clinical trial ecosystem

Fortunately, that’s a problem with a known solution, provided that communication and direction across government is conducted in a clear, competent and consistent manner. The difficulty is that it is far from clear that we have a government capable of tackling the coronavirus crisis in a competent, consistent or clear manner: and to the clear health risks of England’s reopening, we can add the additional and troubling handicap of the government’s lack of grip and operational competence.