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18 March 2020

The unspoken logic of the government’s announcements is that the crisis will be a long one

Ministers may not yet feel able to say how long we could all be limiting social contact.

By Stephen Bush

Throughout the world, most of the global population is set to spend a prolonged period behind closed doors. The most significant element of the announcements made by education ministers across all four UK nations on the closure of schools are the exemptions: vulnerable children (that is, children who have a social worker assigned to them); and the children of key workers. That includes obvious groups (chief among them NHS workers and, of course, teachers), but equally significantly, delivery drivers and law enforcement. No less significantly, Gavin Williamson has announced that schools will remain open for the families of key workers throughout the usual holiday period.

That underlines the implicit logic of the government’s strategy – essentially the one thing that hasn’t changed since their change of approach at the start of this week – which is a belief that suppressing the spread of the disease by reducing social contact means a prolonged period of contact at the bare minimum, perhaps for 18 months, perhaps for longer.

That’s why delivery drivers are going to be essential – because for the foreseeable future, most people in the UK and elsewhere are going to be living indoors, with food, entertainment and all other items primarily brought to them. That means a huge increase in the level of controlling measures – and I suspect that the government’s unwillingness to say so openly is one reason why ministers have talked of “three months’” protection for renters and mortgage-holders: because they do not yet feel able to say, or perhaps have not fully absorbed, just how long we could all be limiting social contact.

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