Fraser Nelson

The staggering cost of ‘Plan B’

The staggering cost of ‘Plan B’
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Finally, the government is modelling the cost (and benefits) of lockdown restrictions. The introduction of vaccine passports, mandatory face masks and work-from-home advice would cost between £11 billion and £18 billion according to a leaked assessment of the so-called ‘Plan B’. And while all this may reduce the spread of the virus at large events by as much as 45 per cent, only a small part (between 2 and 13 per cent) of Covid transmission takes place in such venues — so the extra restrictions would, at most, cut levels of the virus by 5 per cent nationally. The document has been leaked to the Politico website and assumes ‘Plan B’ will last until March next year. The biggest financial hit comes from home working.

That this calculation has been done at all is indicative of a new mindset in government. The Cabinet Office was, until recently, run by Michael Gove, one of the most pro-lockdown ministers, who did not publish any cost-benefit calculations and instead used Covid to amplify Sage worst-case scenarios. With Matt Hancock as health secretary, they sought to put some pro-lockdown steel in the spine of a wavering Prime Minister.

But Gove is now out of the Cabinet Office — replaced by Steve Barclay, still a Treasury man at heart. To him, and many other Tories, it was a dereliction of duty to implement lockdown without a basic assessment of its costs and benefits. This led to lopsided decision-making and left Britain nursing one of the largest Covid bills in the Western world (as well as one of the highest Covid death tolls).

A separate DMCS paper points out that using vaccine passports in big venues forces more people into places where they are more likely to contract the virus. A leak in the Daily Telegraph says: ‘If certification displaces some fans from structured and well ventilated sports stadia, this could lead to them attending unstructured and poorly ventilated pubs instead, where they will have access to more alcohol than if there were in the stadia. Evidence from the Euros showed spikes in cases associated with pubs even when England were playing abroad.’

All told, this is very different mood music to that heard this time last year. With Covid cases now starting to fall, the chances of ‘Plan B’ restrictions are starting to look a lot less likely than they were last week.