The benefit of having a lockdown announced some days in advance is the ability to savour what is about to be lost. People have been able to visit friends and family, not knowing when it will be legal to meet again. Parishioners have attended church to say their farewells, as have small groups of friends and family. Small shops stayed open until midnight on Wednesday to serve customers, restaurants were booked up. Yes, we face the return of Covid-19. But was also face a government that seems in a flap, unable to decide what to do.
Boris Johnson has said that this latest lockdown will last only four weeks, and there is no doubt that he means it. But he also meant it when he said, barely a fortnight ago, that such a lockdown would ‘shatter our lives and our society’ given the damage it would inflict on mental health, the economy and society.
If the pandemic had suddenly taken a dangerous new turn, if infection rates had started to surge, then his U-turn would make more sense. But the growth rate of the virus — the R number that we hear so much about — has been falling for weeks. If the new Tier 3 restrictions were failing in cities such as Liverpool, we would see the need for the new regime. But by the time MPs voted for lockdown, new infections in the city had almost halved. In Nottingham, also in Tier 3, they were only two-fifths of last month’s peak. The official daily data showed almost no growth in those testing positive. The massive ONS survey had figures pointing to a 12pc fall in new infections. So on what grounds did the Prime Minister abandon his strategy?
Even at his twice-delayed press conference last Saturday evening, the Prime Minister struggled to explain what had changed since he declared himself against lockdown.