The Spectator

Covid-19 update: Is lockdown working?

Covid-19 update: Is lockdown working?
Hong Kong: Pan-democratic legislator Andrew Wan Siu-kin is taken away by paramedics after scuffles with security and pro-China legislators. (Photo by Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images)
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News and analysis 

  • Britain will remain in lockdown until June at the earliest, according to theTimes. Meanwhile, No. 10 has been dampening hopes of a significant easing by Boris Johnson on Sunday.
  • Germany has seen its Covid-19 cases rise the most in a week, as it prepares to reopen hotels, restaurants and non-essential shops.
  • A leaked Whitehall report warned three years ago of the serious impact of a pandemic on care homes. Matt Hancock has responded: ‘Everything that was recommended was done.’
  • The NHS has started to build a second contact tracing app after concerns were raised over the first.
  • The government’s botched import of 400,000 items of Turkish PPE came from a former parliamentary candidate turned T-shirt manufacturer. Meanwhile, thieves have stolen £166,000 worth of PPE earmarked for NHS workers from an industrial estate in Salford.
  • The number of people in immigration detention centres has fallen by more than two-thirds.
  • People in the UK are more worried about their mental health than their general health during lockdown, according to the ONS.
  • Technologies including temperature screening will be trialled at Heathrow Airport to detect Covid-19.
  • Plans are being made to increase rail capacity to 70% of normal service from 18 May.
  • Notting Hill Carnival has been cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Is lockdown working?

In cabinet yesterday, Boris Johnson told his ministers that he would not risk the hard-won achievements of the British people, who have forced the virus into retreat by obeying lockdown. But this raises an awkward question: what did lockdown actually achieve? In what ways was it better than, say, voluntary social distancing? This question is not about blame or recrimination. As the government prepares to unwind lockdown, a cool-headed, evidence-led approach is needed to ask which aspects of it worked – and which aspects might have risked more lives than they saved.

First, the death figures. Professor Neil Ferguson had predicted the figure would be below 20,000 given that lockdown had been obeyed to a far stricter extent than he imagined. Britain’s Covid-19 death figure is now 30,000 and counting, so suffice to say there was a flaw in that calculation. A letter to the Lancet this week argues that the death count in itself shows lockdown did not work. A fine theory but in practice, it did not decrease mortality. Our daily graph today is 999 calls mentioning Covid-19-style symptoms. If there was a lockdown effect, it cannot be found on that graph.

Back in March, all Britain had was models. Now there is evidence from around the world: you can look at which countries implemented which measures and judge the result. Germany is reporting a spike in Covid-19 cases since rolling back its lockdown. On the other hand, a study from the University of East Anglia has shown mandatory lockdown was amongst the least effective tools in slowing the spread of the virus. Again, crucially, this is about the future and not the past. As the study concludes: ‘Relaxing stay-at-home orders and allowing reopening of non-essential businesses appear to be the lowest risk measures to relax as part of plans to carefully lift Covid-19 lockdown measures.’

The PM has said he’ll be led by evidence in coming out of lockdown. But in today’sDaily Telegraph, Fraser Nelson says if he uses this argument again – when he addresses the nation in a parliament-dodging Sunday speech – he should publish the advice. As Matt Ridley says in his Spectator cover piece, we’re still in our infancy of understanding the disease. It could well be that strict lockdown - with all of its collateral damage on economy and society – is a price worth paying for a far-worse death rate. But there should, by now, be a healthy amount of evidence to back up this claim, If the government ever plans to trust the public to start safely venturing back out into the world, it would be prudent to arm them with as much information as possible.

Protest in the age of Covid-19

Hong Kong: Pan-democratic legislator Andrew Wan Siu-kin is taken away by paramedics after scuffles with security and pro-China legislators. (Photo by Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images)
In words
In the autumn there will be a second wave. Sweden will have a high level of immunity and the number of cases will probably be quite low. But Finland will have a very low level of immunity. Will Finland have to go into a complete lockdown again?

Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s state epidemiologist, speaking to the FT.

Global news

  • Africa could see 190,000 Covid deaths over the next year, according to the World Health Organization.
  • The White House has blocked the release of lockdown lifting guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • India has begun the world’s biggest repatriation effort as more than 200,000 stranded Indians could return to the country.
  • All ‘non-food’ shops can reopen in France from 11 May. The measure will mean 400,000 businesses can reopen – but it excludes bars, cafés and restaurants. French prisons will also reopen visiting rooms from 11 May.
  • More than 100 elephants in Thailand have been released from sanctuaries to return to their natural habitats. A lack of tourism has deprived workers of funds to feed the animals.

Covid calls
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Research: ‘Winter’ is coming

Last week the UK’s chief medical officer quoted Game of Thrones to reference a potential second peak of the virus: ‘winter is coming.’ But the phrase need not only have negative connotations. Scientists at the VIB-UGent centre in Belgium and the University of Texas at Austin are focusing their efforts on a llama named ‘Winter’, which is producing small antibodies that may help block Covid-19. Winter has been given ‘stabilised’ versions of Mers and Sars, and is now producing ‘nanobodies’, which are smaller than antibodies and easier for scientists to study. Researchers hope that the ‘neutralisation capacity’ of these antibodies against Covid-19 could work as ‘potential therapeutic candidates’.


  • More than 33 million Americans have now filed for unemployment.
  • UK financial regulators say that two-thirds of initiatives for the next year have been delayed by the pandemic.
  • Facebook and Google will allow employees to work from home for the rest of the year.
  • The Bank of England has been criticised as ‘unmistakably bullish’ after forecasts suggested a rapid V-shaped recovery.
  • 14% of law firms have experienced an increase in business according to global data.
  • The retail store H&M saw sales fall by 57% from March.

More from The Spectator

Starmer’s Telegraph splash is a perfect piece of politicsStephen Daisley

We know everything – and nothing – about Covid Matt Ridley

In defence of the British EmpireRobert Tombs

My father is home at lastMerlin Hanbury-Tenison

Boris and Cummings’ words are coming back to biteAlex Massue