Lifting lockdown in 2021: the next phase of the coronavirus strategy

This report from UK think tank the Institute for Government looks at the roadmap out of lockdown and how the government can optimise its strategy.

As the prime minister prepares to unveil his latest ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown, this paper warns that any mismanagement that risks a fourth lockdown would represent a serious failure of government. The paper sets out how the government can optimise its strategy and, crucially, learn from past mistakes. If it fails to do so and falls into the same poor decision making habits seen last year, the roadmap, like the one published last May, will soon become defunct. All government departments and ministers must be bought into the plan. The Treasury, in particular, must be fully on board, having previously pursued policies – such as Eat Out to Help Out – that have been mistimed or inconsistent with other government initiatives. Rishi Sunak cannot expect to embark on an unwavering journey to economic recovery, and the roadmap will be swiftly undermined his budget does not back it up. The government is right to emphasise that data, not dates, should dictate its strategy. It should peg the easing of restrictions to clear metrics – cases, hospital admissions, vaccinations and the R number. It must also set out what would necessitate a change in approach – and ensure that it can adapt its strategy far quicker than it did last year. It must also be up front with the public about its objectives, and why they have changed, and specify the level of risk it deems acceptable. While the emergence of new forms of Covid-19 may yet necessitate another shift in approach which the government could not be blamed for, the continuing fall in cases and the impressive speed of the vaccine roll out are reasons for optimism. But to avoid repeating the mistakes which have twice resulted in lockdowns being reimposed, the government should: Be realistic about the limitations of contact tracing, self-isolation and hotel quarantine. Agree an approach that allows it to slow down or speed up lockdown easing if circumstances change. Ensure its communications strategy continues to under-promise and over-deliver.

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