How the loss of confidence in the government could lead to a second wave of Covid-19

The perception that ministers have lost control of the disease could be the biggest problem since lockdown began. 

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Alok Sharma, the Business Secretary, has gone into quarantine and is awaiting test results for the novel coronavirus. 

Sharma’s illness, whilst unpleasant and worrying for him and his family, also underlines two things: the known risks of reopening businesses and workplaces as far as a second wave of infections is concerned, and the continued hit to the economy until British consumers feel safe to return to normal. 

Another outbreak in parliament wouldn't, by itself, be enough to cause a second wave on its own, just as that other recent ill-advised conga line to celebrate VE Day in Warrington may have caused a small increase in cases locally but did not trigger a national uptick, and just as the largely peaceful Black Lives Matter protests outside parliament won't cause a national increase.

But the growing perception that the government is doing the wrong things is dangerous itself. The polling consistently shows most people think it is too early to ease the lockdown, then there’s the 76 per cent of people telling YouGov that MPs should simply be able to vote online until the pandemic is over. And there’s also the belief that parliament's return will cause lockdown to "end". 

As Tom Chivers explains over at Unherd, the data shows it is simply untrue to say that lockdown observance is a thing of the past. The problem is that the public perception that "everyone else" is breaking lockdown - making a second spike and with it a second lockdown inevitable - is that people take more risks now, while being more reluctant to return to normal later. The perception that the government has lost control of the disease, which a fresh outbreak in parliament would surely trigger, might cause more damage than any other misstep the government may have made since the start of the lockdown. 

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. He also co-hosts the New Statesman podcast.

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