Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. Morning Call
29 November 2021

Will the Omicron variant cause another UK lockdown?

The new strain of coronavirus may be concerning, but there are three major hurdles to another UK lockdown.

By Stephen Bush

Mask-wearing will once again become compulsory on public transport and in shops in England, as the government seeks to curb the transmission of the variant formerly known as “Nu”. Cases of the Omicron variant (the World Health Organisation has skipped two Greek letters: “Nu” because it sounds like “new”, and “Xi” because it is a common family name) have been detected in England and Scotland, but two of the cases in Scotland are particularly alarming as they suggest that community transmission is already taking place.

Does it mean another lockdown is on the way? Ministers insist that it doesn’t: that “Christmas will be saved,” etc, etc. And we still don’t know very much about Omicron and what impact it will have on the rate of hospitalisations and deaths.

[See also: Christmas lockdown questions grow as Omicron variant triggers restrictions]

One minister told me recently that another lockdown would have to pass through a “triple lock”. The first is the fear of what it would do to the Conservative Party’s electoral standing if it had to do another lockdown; the second would be the mood in the cabinet and the Treasury’s willingness to pay for it; the third would be getting a majority for another lockdown in the House of Commons.

A new variant may mean that the first hurdle – that of surviving another lockdown politically – is easier to surmount. But another lockdown would have to mean a further round of financial support, something that the cabinet in general, and the Chancellor in particular, is reluctant to provide.

Select and enter your email address Your new guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture each weekend - from the New Statesman. A quick and essential guide to domestic politics from the New Statesman's Westminster team. A weekly newsletter helping you understand the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email. Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & 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.

Without those measures in place, it would be unlikely, I think, that opposition support for another lockdown in the House of Commons would be forthcoming – and it is difficult to see how another lockdown could pass solely on Tory votes, given the depth of opposition to another one in parts of the party. 

More troubling is how few lessons we have learnt in the past two years. The Health and Safety Executive’s guidance to business still includes plenty about cleaning surfaces (a measure about as helpful in preventing the spread of Covid-19 as wishing) but little about ventilation. The number of public buildings that have become ventilated in that time can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Content from our partners
How trailblazers are using smart meters to make the move to net zero
How heat network integration underpins "London's most sustainable building"
How placemaking can drive productivity in cities – with PwC

And as the FT reports this morning (29 November), the vaccine manufacturing centre, a flagship British government project to enable the UK to expedite the swift production of jabs of all kinds, is being put up for sale

The Omicron variant is in part a product of the global failure by the rich world to learn the predictable lessons that an uncontrolled pandemic in poorer nations has a direct cost for the rich world. But the United Kingdom’s limited toolkit of ways to respond to new mutations quickly is the product of failures to draw simple and easy lessons closer to home.

Topics in this article : , , ,