Updated: Jun 1, 2020
Referred to by some commentators as ‘The Great Lockdown’, the strict measures imposed in the UK in response to the Covid-19 pandemic reflect a strategy common across many nations: to hunker down, to physically isolate oneself from others, to shut down non-essential services and businesses, thus relieving capacity for health services. What has become a well-wrought adage of late, ‘Stay at home. Protect the NHS. Save Lives’, aptly expresses the aims of these lockdown measures. Yet as the weeks roll by, fatigue and general concern surrounding the lockdown has begun to manifest: should we consider easing the lockdown sooner rather than later?
The Benefits of Lifting Lockdown:
For schoolchildren, their education risks being compromised irreparably if the lockdown is extended into the summer months. This is because of a phenomenon known as ‘summer learning loss’ in which students, especially those in primary education, lose some of the skills gained in the previous academic year. An extended period of absence from the point at which lockdown was initiated to the autumn months could be devastating for a child’s intellectual growth. Moreover, the switch to home-schooling during lockdown also requires a level of domestic support and access to the internet, resulting in the potential exacerbation of educational inequality between students from wealthier and poorer backgrounds.
Concerns for the lockdown’s effects on abusive relationships have been raised. In April 2020 Womensaid , a charity working with victims of domestic abuse, conducted a survey to better understand the effect of the lockdown on those suffering abuse. Respondents indicated a dramatic rise in domestic abuse since lockdown began; victims are struggling with the lack of informal support, have had NHS counselling appointments cancelled, and have generally felt trapped and unable to escape abusers.
Alongside the domestic and social strains caused by the lockdown, the economic ramifications are likewise severe. With projections the economy could shrink by 35 percent and unemployment hitting 10 percent, dire forecasts entail loss of life and of businesses. Although the government has initiated a widespread furlough scheme and protection package for the self-employed, it is unclear as to how long the government could feasibly continue these payments, risking further unemployment and business closures the longer lockdown continues.
Those in unprotected jobs such as sex workers have found their income drop substantially since lockdown began, with some charities reporting a rise in suicide attempts and those relying upon charity have experienced a sharp decline in food donations. Moreover, other professional communities such as barristers have experienced extensive financial hardship: newly appointed barristers are likely to be ineligible for the government’s self-employed scheme while chambers are threatened with disclosure because of insufficient financial support and being denied business rate relief under the current support scheme.
The Dangers of Lifting Lockdown:
A major risk in easing measures too early before the spread has stabilised is the potential for a second spike in transmissions, as is evident with the recent spike in cases in Germany after lockdown measures were eased. Any sustained increase in infections runs the risk of instigating a new lockdown, only furthering the social and economic consequences wrought by the current one.
Part of the requirement set out to ease the lockdown measures requires sufficient capacity and distribution of tests. The latest figures available at time of writing indicate that the current capacity for tests stands at 73,400 with 52,429 of said tests being used, suggesting that the government is behind on meeting their projected 100,000 by the end of April. Without such tests, easing the lockdown prematurely could result in an ‘invisible’ spread of the disease.
One major impetus for continuing with the lockdown and preventing spread is because of the significant risk Covid-19 poses for the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions. To ease the lockdown early without due consideration will lead to more casualties as, irrespective of hospital capacity, newfound reports indicate that a large proportion of those placed on ventilators are likely to die.
Concerns have been expressed that without adequate data-protection controls and sufficient capacity for citizens to opt-out of contact tracing, sensitive data could be take advantage of and exploited without explicit consent. Many still recall Google’s partnership with the Royal Free London Trust which resulted in the mass-transfer of sensitive patient records across the trust without patients’ consent.
What Will Happen Next:
There are few certainties when it comes to the lockdown. The government have outlined ‘Five Tests' that must be met before the Lockdown can end, though how and when these tests will be met is as of yet an unknown. What we do know is that whether the lockdown is extended, curtailed, or phased out, there will be serious costs involved in each and every scenario.