Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
17 September 2020

The risk of a second lockdown exposes the UK government’s failures on Covid-19

Boris Johnson failed to use the first lockdown to build enough resilience to prevent a second. 

By Stephen Bush

Almost two million people across Newcastle, Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Gateshead, County Durham and Sunderland will face bans on mixing with other households and a 10pm curfew from midnight tonight, in an attempt to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

Is this a sign that the United Kingdom is heading for a second lockdown? Not according to health minister Ed Argar, who denied that a two-week nationwide lockdown is on the cards. Downing Street also remains keen to avoid a second shutdown. 

But in many ways, whether we are or aren’t in lockdown now is a matter of degree; across large parts of the country, people are already in a second lockdown, with 10 million under some form of restriction since the loosening of the first began. The central problem remains unchanged: we don’t at present have a means to prevent the spread of Covid-19 other than locking down and self-isolating. 

The social, physical and mental consequences of lockdowns are themselves unsustainable. And in practice you cannot prevent people from engaging in illicit social contacts, just as a government could not use abstinence as a sustainable or deliverable way to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections – states far more repressive than the UK have tried and failed to do so.

But the unique threat of the novel coronavirus is not in its deadliness, or even in the fact we still don’t know what the long-term prognosis for people who have had it is, or whether or not having had it confers lasting immunity. It is in what an uncontrolled outbreak does to healthcare capacity – that’s the challenge we’ve seen in Italy, in parts of the United States and may now be seeing again in Israel.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • 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.

To the extent that lockdowns have a value, it is in buying time to think, act, prepare and build resilience. But we have not done so in a manner sufficient to allow the UK to forego lockdowns, instead preferring to focus our political energies on reforming the civil service and unpicking the Northern Ireland protocol, both aims that, whatever you think of them, could surely have been deferred by a year. 

Now, regardless of whether a second lockdown happens formally, the fate of large parts of the country is already a second lockdown – and it’s far from certain that the government will use it any more effectively than they did the first.

Topics in this article :