Robert Peston

How do we avoid another coronavirus lockdown?

How do we avoid another coronavirus lockdown?
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Probably the most interesting new bit of information we received today on Covid-19 was from Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser, who implied that he and the government are now assuming that fewer than one in 200 people who are infected with the virus will die.

That still means this form of coronavirus is a terrible scourge. It is not exactly conventional good news. But this Infection Fatality Rate of 0.4 per cent is less than half the circa one per cent he and the chief medical officer Chris Whitty employed as their rule of thumb or heuristic only a few months ago. 

To be clear, what Vallance actually said was that if the number of cases of Covid-19 continue to double every seven days, that will mean 50,000 of us per day will be succumbing by mid-October, which would in turn precipitate 200 deaths a day roughly a month later (200 divided by 50,000 equals...). But that's the end of the slightly more positive gloss on their presentation. `

They are both firmly of the view that the infection is increasing too fast everywhere. Although Vallance stressed he wasn't officially forecasting 50,000 infections a day within three or four weeks, he and Whitty suggested that would be the outcome without a significantly improved social distancing performance by all of us. Which paves the way for yet another big week of announcements from the Prime Minister and probably from the Chancellor, too – in that, as I've mentioned, it seems highly likely Boris Johnson will announce that pubs and restaurants will close at 10pm, to deter booze-fuelled social converging, and Rishi Sunak will have to find a mechanism to compensate hospitality staff forced back in to part-time working. 

My expectation is that more significant will be a reversed road map from what Johnson announced in the spring. As you will recall, in May, Johnson set out a three-phased plan to reopen the economy and restart our social lives as infections fell. That was the roadmap out of lockdown. Shortly, we will get the roadmap back to something that looks a lot like lockdown, even though the PM hates that word, conditional on whether we socially distance better than at present (students, I am talking to you) and infections start to fall again. 

How anxious should we be, for our physical health and our livelihoods? Well as I have repeatedly mentioned, there are plenty of data scientists and epidemiologists who argue: 1) Johnson and his advisers are being too gloomy and are ignoring the latest data showing at least a diminution in the rate of increase, and 2) there are stark local and regional differences in infection rates, such that it is misleading to talk of a national trend. 

These more optimistic voices are not being heard at the top of the government, largely because the PM was badly burned by the widespread accusation that as the first wave of infections swelled and grew he was too slow to implement effective preventative measures. But so long as the response to this apparent second wave is appropriately calibrated, so long as it is a roadmap that allows for U-turns, we can all live in hope that the most gruelling elements of the last lockdown can be avoided.

Written byRobert Peston

Robert Peston is Political Editor of ITV News and host of the weekly political discussion show Peston. This post originally appeared on his ITV News blog

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