Should 3rd lockdown be even stricter?

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'Shop local, stay local' empty shops in Havant, Hampshire
'Shop local, stay local' empty shops in Havant, Hampshire

The 3rd national lockdown

On Monday 4th January Boris Johnson announced the 3rd national lockdown in order to slow the spread of Covid-19 in England. (1)

Yesterday London’s mayor Sadiq Khan announced that the virus is ‘out of control’ and London’s hospitals could become overwhelmed with patients, as the UK’s covid death toll exceeded that of the peak last April. The delayed nature of the coronavirus means we are now just starting to see cases from people who have become sick after they have met with family and friends in the last 2 weeks of December and during the temporary lifting of the Christmas restrictions.

The Prime Minister has explained how the new strain of the virus is 50-70% more transmissible. The restrictions need to be as strict as possible in order that the contagion cannot pass easily from person to person. This method of social distancing is the government’s strategy for reducing the hospital admissions to a level which the NHS can easily manage.

The official advice is to ‘stay at home’ unless you are a key worker or it is impossible to work from home, to shop for essentials, to exercise, to provide care or for a medical appointment.

During the pandemic it makes sense that medical key workers and carers and anyone involved in social care services go to work to look after sick and vulnerable people who need caring for. There are of course many men, women and children who have other illnesses and medical conditions that need assistance and caring for every day, as well as those unlucky enough to be affected by covid-19. Part of the logic for the lockdown is that we need to make sure people who do not have the new virus but need to access healthcare and hospital treatment can still receive it.

How we could tighten lockdown: the construction industry

These new rules mean that people who cannot work from home are still going to work. It is important that the country’s infrastructure keeps working despite all the challenges faced by this awful disease. The UK economy has already been hit hard by the financial consequences of the unexpected restrictions. Some construction projects are vital to the community in both cities and rural counties. The new Nightingale hospital facilities that are available have been created by many professionals in the building industry going the extra mile. However is it really essential that builders are allowed to keep working on upgrading and renovating expensive houses all over the country?

It is logical that emergency plumbers should be able to ensure that young families and older people can have their heating fixed in the freezing temperatures we are experiencing this January.

This Autumn the ministry of housing stated that there were 648114 empty homes in England. We are going to have thousands of empty commercial properties that could be given a change of use to become residential properties in the future. It may be wise to take stock of the housing situation after all these changes in our society that affect people’s ability to get mortgages and so forth. This will prevent geren field sites becoming new housing developments unnecessarily.

Perhaps it would be a good idea to halt any non essential projects until it is clear that the number of cases has been reduced at least to the levels we had in the summer that the NHS could cope with more comfortably. (2)

How we could tighten lockdown: retail and leisure industry

It is understandable that supermarkets and chemists have to remain open but they still provide an opportunity for the virus to spread between people if they are coming into too close contact. Perhaps garden centres and builder’s merchants might be able to operate as ‘click and collect’ stores only in order to avoid people passing germs around inadvertently.

Thousands of single person households and families would have more food, toiletries and supplies for the home delivered, if they could get delivery slots. Safe contact delivery services are better for social distancing than people gathering in supermarkets. This is particuarly important if the shops are on the smaller size or are situated in busy areas. Having set times for shopping sessions might help distribute visitors more evenly across the businesses opening hours which would also reduce contact. Booking a ticket online with a specific time slot or allocating regular timed appointments could also be another option.

Home deliveries also avoid the need for people to take public transport to get their weekly groceries. Minimising journeys taken by locals on trains and busses means that key workers can travel in greater safety. In Spain a designated person has been assigned to purchase their household’s provisions which further cuts down on the opportunities of passing on the virus.

How we could tighten lockdown: bubbles, social interactions and churches

The current guidance on teaming up with another household if you are providing childcare or live on your own is “A support bubble may include a maximum of two households and should be “fixed”; people are advised against switching between different bubbles.” There has been some confusion especially over Christmas about who you can meet indoors. Numerous reports of house parties particularly in London over the festive season demonstrate that many young people and adults have not been sticking to the rules on social distancing.

We are yet to see the effects of the rebellious New Year’s gatherings. Chris Whitty confirmed the seriousness of the situation on the BBC News programme this morning and confirmed that we are yet to see the peak of hospital admissions and deaths and that 1 in 30 people have tested positive for Covid-19 in London this week.

On Saturday 5 protesters were arrested after a group of around 30 men and women grouped together at Clapham Common shouting anti-lockdown chants. Clearly with the pressure on health services at crisis point the unmasked demonstrators were putting themselves, the police officers and others lives at risk. Any mass gathering at this time is unacceptable and although individual freedoms are massively important in any democracy, this way of opposing the government’s strategy is highly irresponsible.

Residents who want to make their difference of opinion heard should use technology. There are many ways of corresponding with those in charge in this country and individuals must use the correct channels to communicate their views to their local councillors and politicians. (3) Everyone ‘Behaving as if you have the virus’ over the next few months is key to allowing senior citizens and the vulnerable to be vaccinated and together we can then avoid preventable illness and deaths. (3)

In France, Spain, Italy and other European countries tougher time limits have been enforced for exercising outdoors. Introducing a night time curfew has also worked in other countries whereby it would be illegal to be out after a set time to reduce the number of people out and about and possibly visiting each other’s houses needlessly.

The BBC News reported today that closing places of worship could be an option in further reducing the increase in cases across the country due to their ‘communal nature’. Scotland has already closed churches of all religions until the current lockdown is lifted. It is usually possible to receive church services online but it is not the same social experience and not everyone has access to the internet. It is understood by religious leaders and the government that being able to visit a place of worship especially in these difficult times should be reinstated as soon as possible for the benefit of all communities. (6)

How we could tighten lockdown: education

The government has said that any family who does not have the laptops, computer equipment and internet in order to be able to complete home study work can attend school as usual. It will remain to be seen this week how many extra pupils go back to school following this advice. The Guardian wrote yesterday that “more than 1 in 6 primary schools were reporting more than 30% of children attending” class. Children of key workers and vulnerable and special needs children are also exempt from the school closure rules during lockdown. (4)

“The key worker list is so exhaustive that the majority of households have one parent falling within the list,” said a parent named Rachel on Friday to Manchester Evening News which reported that some schools had 70% of its pupils requesting to attend classes as usual.  “Doesn’t matter if the other parent is at home and doesn’t work, is working from home etc – the children are still going into school. Both parents should be key workers I think.” (5)

Nursery schools are still open as usual and as this is another opportunity for households to mix this closing nurseries could be an option for ensuring a successful lockdown. We know that young children thankfully do not get really sick but when they unintentionally pass the covid-19 infection between them they can infect parents and grandparents with devastating consequences. A temporary closure might be inconvenient for everyone including key workers but would help fight the spread of the virus at this crucial time.

A fit for purpose lockdown and the future

The government has been clear that nobody wants to officially restrict the lives of residents in England with rules that curb their precious freedoms. However it is not fair that some members of the public are taking a laissez faire attitude to another national lockdown and the compulsory wearing of face masks.

Millions of single parents and adults of all ages are living alone and following the rules despite the social isolation and loneliness this lockdown can cause. ‘Frontline’ workers and those who are shielding or caring for people with disabilities are sacrificing selflessly in order to support the drive to reduce the ‘R’ reinfection number and reduce this contagion to a less harmful status in the near future.

The vaccine programme is racing to vaccinate millions of adults across the country over the coming months. This national immunisation drive is on a scale we have not seen since World War II. It is great news that the scientists have developed vaccines so swiftly and that they should even work on the latest variants of the coronavirus.

Whilst this countrywide life saving project takes place it may be wise for Westminster to order further limits to our activities and interactions on a temporary basis. We must ensure the lockdown is strict enough in order to be able to conquer this life endangering contagion. Only then will we be able to begin to return to a more normal way of life once again, most likely on a gradual basis during the summer months and into the autumn.

 

(1.) ‘What England’s new national lockdown rules mean for you -and when they could end’ Jordan Kelly-Linden, Chris Graham, Lucy Fisher, Harry Yorke, Charles Hymas, The Telegraph, 9 January 2021 ‘What England’s new national lockdown rules mean for you -and when they could end’ Jordan Kelly-Linden & friends, The Telegraph

(2.) ‘Empty housing’ (England) UK Parliment House of Commons Library, 21 October 2021 Empty housing’ (England) UK Parliament House of Commons Library,

(3.) Anti-lockdown protesters gather in Clapham Common, Daniel O’Mahony, 9 January 2021 Anti-lockdown protesters gather in Clapham Common, Daniel O’Mahony, Evening Standard

(4.) ‘Primary schools in England still ‘rammed’ with pupils, say heads’, Richard Adams, 8 Jan 2021 ‘Primary schools in England still ‘rammed’ with pupils, say heads’, Richard Adams, 8 Jan 2021

(5.) ‘It’s a shambles’: Row over key worker school places as parents accused of taking spaces to avoid home learning’ Emma Gill, Manchester Evening News, 8 January 2021

‘It’s a shambles’: Row over key worker school places as parents accused of taking spaces to avoid home learning’ Emma Gill, Manchester Evening News

(6.) Covid rules: What could be done to tighten lockdown in England? BBC News, 11 January 2021 Covid rules: What could be done to tighten lockdown in England?