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?

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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.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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