Why the crisis in care homes could prolong lockdown

Outbreaks of Covid-19 in the care sector are driving the R value of the virus up.

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Dominic Raab sought to impart two messages at this evening's Downing Street press conference. The first was that, for now at least, there will be no substantial changes to lockdown restrictions. The second was that the R value of Covid-19 was running between 0.5 and 0.9 per cent. 

Much more significant than anything the first secretary said, however – much of which had the distinct ring of lines taken to fill time before the prime minister commits real news on the future of the lockdown in his statement on Sunday – was the contribution of Ian Diamond, the government's chief statisician.

Diamond revealed that the R value had in fact increased since last week. Why? Outbreaks of the virus in care homes, he said, were driving R up. 

As the NS has reported extensively, the pandemic has hit the care sector particularly hard: more than a third of homes have had outbreaks and one in 17 residents has died. Issues with access to personal protective equipments for staff are also a running sore.

Until now the government's response to the crisis and care homes has been haphazard and slow. That it is pushing the R value up might change that. The closer it is to one, of course, the lesser the chances of any easing of restrictions – for which there is a demonstrably large appetite within Cabinet and the Conservative Party.

Patrick Maguire is political correspondent at the New Statesman.

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