Support 100 years of independent journalism.

The biggest test of the government will be whether it can prevent a second Covid-19 wave

Can ministers ease the lockdown without a new spike in infections?

By Stephen Bush

Individual parts of the country could face new targeted lockdowns in the event of future outbreaks of the novel coronavirus, or, as the Daily Mail charmingly puts it “Housing estates will face new local lockdowns”. (And, presumably, villages, streets, small islands and conurbations too, as well as us disease-ridden and sinful estate-dwellers.) 

Geographically concentrated lockdowns make sense. There is no particular reason why an entire country should have to lockdown to prevent the passage of a new disease. Just as some regions had stricter measures for longer to prevent the spread of foot-and-mouth, some parts of the country may have to lockdown in the event of new outbreaks. 

There’s just one problem: the ability to use targeted lockdowns to contain and curtail new outbreaks of Covid-19 requires the government to have a robust infrastructure in place to test, trace and isolate new cases. Does it? 

It’s far from clear either that the United Kingdom is planning to hire enough contact tracers. The government has a target of 25,000 – it may need almost double that, and it’s not clear if we’re paying them enough to do what is ultimately a complex and difficult job. 

While the Cummings story has done serious damage to the government’s approval rating, with successive polls showing perceptions of its competence and trustworthiness taking a hit, the ultimate test of its competence will be whether it can ease the lockdown without a second spike in infections – and whether it has the ability to contain new outbreaks.

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 best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. 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
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy