A “blunt instrument”. An inflicter of “needless damage”. These were the words used by Rishi Sunak when questions were raised regarding the possibility of a two-week ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown in October. Barely three weeks later, the government performed yet another U-Turn in spectacular fashion, announcing a one-month national lockdown that will force England indoors until at least the start of December. In the immortal words of Taylor Swift, I think I’ve seen this film before. And I didn’t like the ending.
The return of lockdown sees the resurgence of many issues the government, understandably, wanted to avoid. It is no understatement to say that Covid-19 has crippled the economy, with GDP plunging by almost 20% in April, the largest monthly drop on record that puts Britain on track to have its worst recession in over three hundred years. Economists do admittedly argue that a second lockdown won’t have as serious an effect; many stress the important difference schools remaining open this time around will have, with more parents being able to continue working as a result.
Forecasts regarding a further drop in GDP range from 3.5%-10%. An improvement, yes, but still unbelievably damaging and still a far cry from the assurance that Britain’s economy would “bounce back” from the crisis as it eased out of lockdown in June. Of course, if we have learned anything from Covid-19, it is our aspiring churchillian prime minister’s tendency to over-promise and under-deliver. I cannot speak for anyone else, but I know any moderately hopeful expectations I had were brought firmly back down to earth as soon as the word “moonshot” tumbled out of Boris Johnson’s mouth.
Furthermore, Britain is in the midst of not just a health crisis, but also a catastrophic social crisis as the return of lockdown wreaks further havoc on the mental health of individuals. Paul Farmer of the mental health charity Mind has said that a winter lockdown could be “the greatest test of our mental health this year”, while the Centre for Mental Health has projected that up to ten million people will require mental health support as a direct consequence of Covid-19.
Notably, this figure was released even before a second lockdown was anticipated. The ramifications of an ineffective response to such a crisis must not be underestimated. Mental health problems associated with feelings of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder will not end when lockdown does, with the effects it can have on the individual potentially lasting for years to come. Yes, if the potential fatalities and infections are as bad as we have been told, then lockdown is needed. Yet so is a plan of action to handle this emerging social crisis before it grows too big to tackle.
Unfortunately, the government’s response has been yet another disappointment. Despite pledging an extra £2.3bn of funding into mental health services, this amount is less than the £2.6bn stipulated by the NHS’s five-year plan on national mental health, conceived of long before Covid-19 had gripped Britain. The repercussions of such a lacklustre attempt to tackle increasing levels of mental illness do not bear thinking about.
All that remains to be asked now is will a second lockdown actually work? The people of England are not who they were at the beginning of the first lockdown in March. The United Kingdom, suffering from the combined effects of Covid-19 and a government that lurches from one failed policy to the next with no clear sense of direction, is a nation weary and divided. This is a dangerous combination when the government needs us to be our most compliant with the restrictions forced upon us.
While it still remains to be seen what the ultimate outcome of yet another retreat in the fight against Covid will be, one thing is certain: it is (not) beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
Image: Steve Snodgrass via Flickr