Chancellor must use ‘more measured language’ around reopenings, scientist warns

Laura Parnaby
·3-min read

A scientist who advises the Government has urged caution over the Chancellor’s call for people to “get out there” when hospitality reopens, saying England could be “flipping from one extreme to the other”.

Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of Spi-M (Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling), which advises the Government, said ministers need to use “slightly more measured language” after Rishi Sunak urged people to return to non-essential shops, pubs and restaurants as soon as they reopen.

Watch: Johnson: 'Nothing to dissuade me' on lockdown roadmap

The infectious diseases expert said he welcomed the Government’s move to allow non-essential retailers to open until 10pm six days a week, but warned more caution was needed with the language used to encourage shoppers and people socialising to return safely.

Speaking at the Conservative Party spring forum on Friday, Mr Sunak indicated that the Eat Out To Help Out scheme will not return this spring or summer once lockdown eases, but he encouraged people to “get out there” as soon as shops reopen.

Eat Out to Help Out scheme
The Eat Out To Help Out scheme triggered a sudden shift from the ‘stay at home’ message last summer, Dr Tildesley said (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

The Chancellor said: “Last year we were worried about whether once things reopened people would get out there and spend.

“I think this time around, we know now, both from our experience and from looking around the world, that actually once you reopen things it seems that people will get out there and do what they do best, which is go have fun.”

When asked on Saturday about the Chancellor’s “get out there” comment, Dr Tildesley told Times Radio: “We need to be really careful with this, we had it similarly with the Eat Out To Help Out – there was a big switch last summer from ‘it is your duty to stay at home’ all of a sudden to it being your duty to go to the pub.

“I totally understand the need to reinvigorate the economy, but I think we need slightly more measured language here to encourage people to do that, but to do it within the rules, to make sure that we observe social distancing.

“We all want to go back to normal, we all want to be in a situation – as we were prior to 2020 – where you can go to the pub and hug your mates and all these sorts of things that we used to do, but at the moment we need to be cautious about doing that.

“That’s why I worry a little bit about this sort of language of flipping from one extreme to the other, and I think we need to ease back into normality.”

He agreed with the Government’s ‘road map’ out of lockdown that next week is the “right time to reopen” in England, because despite a levelling off in the decline of coronavirus infections in the country, “hospital occupancies and deaths are still going down”.