The economic case for delaying lockdown easing beyond 21 June

·4-min read
Rishi Sunak is said to be comfortable with a delay to re-opening (AP)
Rishi Sunak is said to be comfortable with a delay to re-opening (AP)

Just do it Boris Johnson: Delay reopening. Then there is a chance Andrew Lloyd-Webber gets arrested.

He says he’s willing to open his doors for the West End production of Cinderella even if that means breaking Covid-19 rules in the event of restrictions - such as 1m social distancing - extending beyond 21 June.

His spending maybe a couple of hours in a police cell, assuming the Met goes in, would for me rate as a small downpayment penalty for what, to me, is the high crime of creating Cats. And that’s just for starters. But I’ll take what I can get.

Lloyd-Webber is far from alone in pressing Johnson to stick to that date for "freedom day". The hospitality industry is howling at the moon.

That’s understandable. Many of its members are in a real jam. They need more than even magical Mr Mistoffelees could conjure up - and I really, really hate that I know the name of that damn cat and what it does.

There are sound economic reasons for holding off, and it seems Rishi Sunak might have worked that out, as cases and - looking at today’s figures - hospital admissions go up thanks to the Delta variant.

If the reports that he’s willing to countenance at least two to four weeks are indeed true, then it would suggest that Sunak has learned a valuable lesson from previous months, reinforcing his status as one of the all-too-rare bright pennies in Johnson’s moth eaten wallet.

The Delta strain has been dominant in the UK since last month. It’s one of those more-transmissible mutations that keep emerging. The West really needs to get on with kicking its surplus vaccines over to less fortunate, and wealthy, parts of the world because that might help to put a lid on more like it.

A double dose of one of the vaccines we have available does appear to be effective against Delta.

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, has pointed to figures showing that only a small minority of people admitted to hospital through contracting it have had both shots.

However, while the UK is closing in on having 50 per cent of UK adults in that happy position that isn’t enough for the fabled “herd immunity” – and a single shot helps less.

What worries scientists is Delta’s potential to burn its way through unvaccinated groups in the meantime, which includes some very vulnerable people who, for whatever reason, haven’t yet had their jabs.

This helps to explain why organisations like the independent Sage has urged a pause to reopening. The potential for another almighty mess, with overflowing hospitals and a battered economy is clearly there.

Sunak should by now be aware that one of the most damaging features of the previous fifteen months is lockdown’s hokey-cokey nature (in out, in out etc).

It goes like this: "We’re going to save summer, so you can maybe open your cafe, and here’s a tax concession to bring in the punters". Followed by: "Oops, sorry, but the little b****** is back so now you’ve got to close up again. Maybe we’ll be able to take your gaffe out of tier three in a couple of weeks and things’ll be ok again". And then: "Yep, cases coming down. Wait, wait, no, we’re back in full lockdown and all that stock you bought is going to have to be dumped because it’s past its use by date. Sorry about that!"

When it comes to reopening and a fully-functioning economy, slow and steady wins this race.

The government needs to bear that in mind. The public has so far shown a remarkable degree of tolerance for its screw-ups, but it hasn’t written a blank cheque.

So maybe Cinderella is going to have to put up with being late to the ball and a few of those damnable cats will have to wait a bit longer for… nope. I can’t write about that monster any more. I’m already having flashbacks to the cinematic version and the sight of Judy Dench wearing whiskers and a rug.

The government needs to act in the best interests of the nation as a whole, and yes, in the best interests of its economy.

If it wants to help the hospitality industry in the meantime - and that would be a good move - it could start by finding a way to assist with the vexed subject of rent arrears which trade body UK Hospitality has long been calling for.

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