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20 April 2020

Why the UK government’s five tests for ending the lockdown are so hard to meet

The tests may be designed to remain unmet until Boris Johnson recovers, allowing him to adjudicate among a divided cabinet.   

By Stephen Bush

Cafes and restaurants will remain closed for months to come, masks will likely become mandatory on public transport, and a degree of social distancing will endure for the foreseeable future, French prime minister Édouard Philippe has announced

A sign of things to come in the United Kingdom? In addition to being our closest continental neighbour, France is the country that most closely resembles ours in terms of the challenges of fighting Covid-19 and the downsides of the lockdown: a large, high-density capital, issues with the procurement of masks and protective equipment … but real costs in terms of social justice arising from school closures, and a major and painful economic downturn as a result of the lockdown.

The government’s five tests certainly seem to point to a future a lot like France’s – but for both governments, that means a huge increase in the production of tests, masks and other protective equipment – a task that the British state is at present struggling to meet. 

But it’s not clear that the five tests are a genuine insight into the government’s thinking, and that the future of prolonged social distancing and Taiwan-style living they imply is a conscious choice. It may equally be that the reason why the tests are so hard to meet without either a vaccine or a major increase in the amount of masks, tests and so forth, is that they are primarily designed to remain unmet until Boris Johnson recovers, so he can adjudicate between a divided cabinet on when and how to end the lockdown. 

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