What worried cabinet ministers today was the disclosure to them that the rate of transmission of Covid-19 is not properly under control in either hospitals or care homes. In the community, R – the rate of transmission – is probably as low as 0.5/0.6, which means its savage progress through the population has been arrested.
But in the very places where the frail and sick are supposed to be shielded, too many people are still being newly infected. Ministers were especially shocked to learn that some hospitals are really struggling to manage the rate of spread of illness. That is why Dominic Raab announced today that for the UK as a whole, R has deteriorated a bit and is in the range of 0.5 to 0.9. And 0.9 is too close to 1 – the threshold for exponential growth in infection – for comfort.
This explains why the Prime Minister has said that restrictions on our basic freedoms, to see who we want and where and when we want, will be relaxed with great caution.
What he will announce on Sunday is a ‘roadmap’ for progressive changes to the lockdown, with U-turns written into that roadmap, which would be triggered should the rate of infection surge again. His plan will be very technical, conditional and arduous.
We will get to see our nearest and dearest again (though only in small numbers), and work more away from home (at a proper two metre distance from co-workers) and shop for non-essentials, all in the coming weeks and months, so long as we continue to do our socially distancing best and the virus also behaves as it is supposed to do.