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14 April 2020

Why easing the lockdown will be so difficult for the UK

Many in Britain had already begun to practice social distancing before the new rules were introduced. 

By Stephen Bush

Emmanuel Macron has confirmed that France’s lockdown will endure until at least July – though creches and schools will be reopened in waves from 11 May due to the impact that school closures are having on inequality. France is one of a number of European countries to begin easing their lockdown measures. 

Here in the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson has been discharged from hospital and is recovering at Chequers – a process that will take some weeks. That will delay any conversation about how and when to end the lockdown, though, in any case, that decision is still some way off – as the UK’s still-climbing death toll shows, we have yet to reach the peak of the outbreak.

One missing part of the political argument over the lockdown is that it’s not simply a matter of announcing something from outside Downing Street. Many in the UK had already begun to practice social distancing before the new regulations came in, just as many in the UK have taken to wearing masks, judging that the growing global consensus on their use is a better guide – or, at least, a less risky one – than the official position of the British government, which is that the evidence on the use of masks is mixed. 

People are taking their cues not only from their own country but the ones nearest to them: and if France’s easing of restrictions causes the disease to flare back up again, then the British government is going to struggle to sell this country on the proposition that easing the lockdown is a good idea.

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