Yesterday Britain passed another ‘grim milestone’ as 100,000 people have now died from COVID-19. The latest daily death tolls have been the highest of the pandemic so far, with numbers in excess of the previous peak back in April, all helped along by a far more transmissible version of the virus and the fact that three weeks ago the nation collectively ignored Chris Whitty’s grovelling entreaties to us all to not to go and celebrate Christmas with friends and family.
Which leaves the government in a position of yet again looking for ways to tighten the already seriously restrictive lockdown rules. Leader of the Opposition Sir Kier Starmer has called on Boris to introduce further lockdown efforts (which usually means the government was planning to do so already) plus Scotland has just ratcheted up its own rules.
So here are ten ways those in power might choose to slow down the spread…
1 – Meeting one other person outdoors
Given the virus is primarily spread from person to person by social interaction, the government has already done a lot to curtain this. From raves to dinner parties, we’ve given a lot up to stop the transmission of COVID-19.
And yet, even in this version of lockdown where you can only see one other person outdoors for exercise once a day, the virus is on the march. So one option left for policy-makers is to close even this down too, as they did back in March.
A reason they might be hesitant to ban meeting, however, is that the effect on our national mental health, leaving some completely isolated, might be too much to stomach.
2 – Closing nurseries
Universities, secondary and primary schools are shut to all but the most vulnerable young people and the children of key workers, leaving parents the nation over struggling to juggle their full time jobs with being part time maths lecturers.
Parents of very young children, however, are currently sighing with relief that they don’t have to entertain their toddlers while fielding Zoom calls with their boss because nurseries have been exempt from the shutdown. Which might have to change.
Sir Kier has already said that he’s ‘surprised’ that they have not closed and some scientists have questioned it too.
However, the government has so far resisted pressure to shut them down, perhaps waiting for data as to transmission among this relatively small number of potential vectors, as well as with an eye to the disruption to the economy of workers caring for very young children. It’s also notable that most nurseries are private, while the majority of schools are state run, so it’s possible that they’re anxious for this vital service to survive post lockdown.
3 – Curfew
This will fly against everything that Boris feels he stands for, but the government may feel that it has no option but to impose a curfew.
Curfew feels particularly un-British, but has been employed in Europe and elsewhere, with the population effectively banned from being outdoors between certain hours.
The closest we got to curfew here was the ban on restaurants and hospitality serving past 10pm. It was seen as as unpopular as it was ineffective and the 9:59pm rush back to homes could be as super-spreading as the post 10pm pub crowds were back in September.
4 – Masks Outside
Wearing medical masks in public has long been seen as normal in the Far East, but was unheard of here until 2020. Now it’s the law that anyone entering shops and indoor public places must wear one.
But London Mayor Sadiq Khan has called for the government to mandate this for anyone venturing outdoors.
When asked in a recent briefing, Chris Whitty threw cold water on the idea saying that he thought the effect would be very minimal, so don’t necessarily expect this to be brought in. But those minimal changes might just save some lives, so you never know…
5 – Ban Support Bubbles
Remember that support bubbles didn’t even exist during the first lockdown. Now households can ‘bubble’ to provide childcare support and to help lonely singletons or the elderly in need of company.
The move recognised the issues faced by so many who found lockdown almost impossible without any interaction whatsoever. But it’s also a potential target for further lockdown measures as the government seeks to reduce interaction as much as it possibly can.
6 – Non-Essential Click & Collects
Curiously the Scottish government has decided to ban all non-essential click and collect services. The announcement will see any business offering click and collect forced to stop altogether unless it’s deemed ‘essential’.
Meanwhile Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has told essential click and collects, which presumably means supermarkets, chemists and the like, that timings given to customers must be staggered.
The aim here must be to reduce queuing outside shops, where interaction between queue-ers could cause the virus to be passed round.
7 – Back To Two Metres?
Originally Britain had the furthest social distancing measure in the world, set at two metres or about six feet. However, this was relaxed to ‘one metre plus’ by Boris Johnson after the first lockdown.
Ostensibly the new (albeit slightly vague!) measurement was put in place to help hospitality which simply could not function with two metres social distancing. However, this could be back on the agenda and the effect will likely have less ill effect, given all the restaurants are shut anyway!
However, shops will be forced to reduce capacity, and the resulting queues outside may again be fertile breeding grounds for the virus.
8 – No Entry To Takeaways
Currently you can enter a chip shop or coffee shop to order and collect your chips. Or coffee. Not in Scotland, any more, as the government there has banned the public from entering takeaway venues to collect their orders.
Which might be an option for Westminster as they seek to reduce social interaction. Though like so many other items on this list, it’s unclear if this really is having any real effect on the circulation of coronavirus…
9 – Banning Alcohol Outside
The government has already banned consuming alcohol within the proximity of venues in order to stop crowds congregating outside pubs. But in Scotland the consumption of alcohol outside has been outlawed altogether.
Presumably aimed at reducing social interaction because of alcohol’s inherently social nature, or perhaps an acknowledgement of the judgement impairing quality of drinking, this feels like an option a Tory government might shy away from. But who knows?
10 – Limiting Exercise To One Hour
Currently we’re allowed to exercise once a day. But there’s no real limit to how long that’s for and the rules are pretty unenforceable. And that’s a lot less restrictive than during Lockdown 1.
So an option for the government is to return to the time-limited version of exercise. There is a very clear uptick of people and traffic on the streets in Lockdown 2 compared to the first and this is something that may well be linked to the open-ended timings.
Of course, it’s not really the exercise that’s the problem, but the lounging on a park bench or similar bending of the rules, which this struggle to eliminate.
However, as the government mulls further action, it’s also notable that there is a little tiny chink of hope in the awful stats we’re seeing right now. While daily deaths continue to soar, infections appear to be down for the third day in a row and we’re not seeing the regular 50,000+ daily infections we were witnessing just days ago.
If this trend continues it suggests that while we might be in for a grim few weeks, the peak may pass and the death toll may slowly start to edge down and prove that the current restrictions are working. So there’s a chance that Boris will perhaps hold off locking down further and ‘see how it goes’. Which, if nothing else, means you’ve basically wasted the last five minutes you spent reading this article…