In Brief

What are the arguments to end the coronavirus lockdown?

Cabinet ‘hawks’ and commentators say measures threaten economy and civil liberties

Pressure is growing on the government to begin the process of lifting the coronavirus lockdown, as cabinet “hawks” argue that it’s time to act.   

The Guardian says the “hawks” include Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove, and Trade Secretary Liz Truss. All three are “raising concerns about the impact of a lengthy shutdown on the economy,” the paper says.

Economic concerns are the cornerstone of arguments for ending the lockdown sooner rather than later. 

Sunak has presented to ministers projections for the extent of business bankruptcies, unemployment and the gravity of the recession. Truss has argued that restoring global trade as quickly as possible is vital for the nation’s economic stability.

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Other Tory MPs have joined the chorus. Former environment secretary Theresa Villiers said that the economic damage of the lockdown could become “catastrophic”.

She argued: “It's so vital that we do find a way to let the economy start to come out of what is effectively a medically induced coma.”

The hawks also argue that there are negative impacts on health from a prolonged lockdown. A government adviser said the “public health consequences” of the restrictions include an uptick in domestic abuse and data showing that recessions cause an increase in deaths. 

“Remember that if we stay locked down, this is having vital real-life consequences as well and we can lose thousands of lives through recession too,” said the adviser.

Yesterday, the Office for National Statistics reported deaths from non-coronavirus causes has increased, suggesting the lockdown may be having an indirect impact on health.

Another argument put forward is that the UK is already through the worst of the coronavirus. Carl Heneghan, director of the centre for evidence-based medicine at Oxford University, argues that the restrictions are no longer necessary and that a continued lockdown is “going to outweigh the damaging effect of coronavirus”.

Speaking to the Daily Mail, he claimed that deaths peaked on 8 April, and that the rate of infection peaked 21 days before that. He said that the government “has failed to look at all the data and understand when the peak of infections actually occurred”.

Finally, there is a civil liberties dimension. Peter Hitchens, a longstanding sceptic of the measures, wrote in the Mail on Sunday that “the government are trying to get us to accept a far higher level of state intrusion in our lives than we have ever endured” and “treating us as if we were unruly children”.

This proposition was bolstered when the UK justice secretary Robert Buckland told the parliamentary select committee for human rights that the “very nature of the measures” needed to stop coronavirus was curtailing rights. However, Buckland added that the measures also uphold the right to life. 

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