The Tory parliamentary party is in a febrile mood. As I say in the Times on Saturday, the two-metre rule has become a particular focus of MPs ire. It is now symbolic for them of a cautious approach to lockdown easing, which they fear could lead to the UK having one of the slowest economic recoveries, as well as one of the worst death tolls, in Europe.
Optimists in government are confident that the two-metre rule will be gone by the time that pubs and restaurants reopen on the 4 July. Interestingly, the guidance to those establishments that will be given the go-ahead to resume then doesn’t emphasise the two-metre rule. But even more important for these businesses than a relaxation of the two-metre rule, is a public willingness to go out and spend money: that will play a significant part in determining whether the recovery is an L or U shape.
However, as challenging as the current moment is for the government, the winter has the potential to be even more difficult. One of the government’s nightmare scenarios is a second spike of the virus coinciding with the winter flu season – testing the NHS to, and perhaps beyond, capacity – at a time of mass unemployment.
To get through the winter if there’s no vaccine, the government will need its new track and trace system to work. The symptoms for coronavirus and flu are so similar that come November, December it will have to be turning round close to half a million tests a day. This is undoubtedly a challenge, but one on which the UK’s efforts to control coronavirus and the government’s future will turn.