Coronavirus lockdown: Why too much ‘exit strategy’ talk is dangerous – leader comment

A premature end to the coronavirus lockdown would risk a major resurgence of the disease and put lives at risk.
Streets, like this one in Penicuik, are deserted all over Scotland (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)Streets, like this one in Penicuik, are deserted all over Scotland (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)
Streets, like this one in Penicuik, are deserted all over Scotland (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)

The vast majority of people are longing for the end of the lockdown, so it’s only natural that it’s a major subject of conversation. And those in government must plan for when and how these extraordinary restrictions on daily life will be lifted. We really do need an exit strategy for both practical and psychological reasons.

However, we must not get carried away and talk ourselves into the idea that this is nearly over, a mindset that could result in the premature end of the lockdown as politicians buckle under public pressure. That would risk a major resurgence of the disease, throwing away the achievements of the social distancing policy and causing an even greater loss of life.

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What once seemed like a faraway threat is now on our doorstep and, even if we have not been directly affected, many of us will know someone who has caught the disease or who is grieving the loss of a loved one. If we find ourselves beginning to falter or calling for a relaxation of the rules, we should think of them and remember we could be next. And if not us, then someone close to us.

The cost of a three-month lockdown – if that’s how long this one lasts – will be enormous, with the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasting it could cause the economy to shrink in size by more than a third. The International Monetary Fund also expects the world’s GDP to take a £7.2 trillion hit over the next two years.

But when it really comes down to it – as vital as a healthy economy is to us all – it’s only money. Lives are what matter.

So we should all agree that the end of the lockdown should only begin when it makes medical sense to do so, based on the best advice from epidemiologists and other experts.

We need to be patient and dig in for the long haul, if that is what it turns out to be. And no one should expect life to immediately return to normal.

Italy and Spain, which both saw major outbreaks earlier than the UK, have begun a cautious relaxation of their restrictions. And while Wuhan in China celebrated victory after nearly three months in a particularly strict lockdown when residents were allowed to leave the city, there are still some restrictions in place.

We must stay strong, maintain discipline and abide by the lockdown rules because, as tedious as they are, they are saving lives.

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