Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. UK Politics
29 October 2020

The longer Boris Johnson waits to impose a lockdown, the longer England will stay there

The government may be making a fatal error by refusing to change course even as Covid-19 cases rapidly accelerate. 

By Ailbhe Rea

Nearly 100,000 people are catching Covid-19 every day in England, a major study by Imperial College London has suggested, as the authors warn that we are at a “critical stage” of the coronavirus pandemic in England and “something has to change”.

The highest number of cases is still in the north of England but the highest rate of acceleration is in the south, prompting widespread expectations that large parts of the south will be put under tier two restrictions, while places such as London could be placed into tier three, with further discussion about whether these restrictions will be enough. The main question, however, is still whether the government is making a fatal error by avoiding a national lockdown in England, preferring a regional approach under which even the highest level of restrictions are not guaranteed to reverse the rate of acceleration. 

This serious policy debate has been increasingly reduced to a rather unhelpful “health vs economy” dichotomy as time has gone on. So it is perhaps worth returning to the single most important lesson from the first wave: that locking down sooner saves lives, and enables an earlier exit from those restrictions. The reasons for the government’s reluctance are well-known. But it is worth bearing in mind this observation from Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at Edinburgh University and one of the UK’s most astute voices on the pandemic: “The longer we delay the decision to go into lockdown, the longer it is going to last.” This is also the warning from the authors of the Imperial report.

Perhaps the government will be able to get through the winter with a regional approach consisting of restrictions that many fear won’t reverse the rise in cases. But England’s risky strategy makes it an outlier. If the government eventually has to impose a nationwide lockdown, there is not just a health case, but an obvious economic one, for doing so sooner rather than later. 

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 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
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.

Content from our partners
Harnessing breakthrough thinking
Are we there yet with electric cars? The EV story – with Wejo
Sherif Tawfik: The Middle East and Africa are ready to lead on the climate

Topics in this article :