Renew Member and Prospective Candidate, Jamie Hirst, examines local lockdowns
Governments and their departments love blanket policies. Left, right or centre they all love a cheeky blanket policy. They are easier, cheaper and quicker to implement. The fact that the Courts repeatedly find blanket policies illegal is just a minor inconvenience.
That’s not to say blanket policies can’t be useful. As mentioned, they can be quick to implement, but they need to be updated, just like the early Coronavirus regulations, which were implemented with set review dates.
A case-by-case approach is only used willingly when it is advantageous to the individual. Put another way, how often has an official used the phrase “We’re looking into this on a case-by-case basis” and you have thought, “they’re stalling”.
This is why we need to worry when the government announced that local lockdown measures will be decided on a case-by-case basis. Not only does it give the government far too much leeway, it means that people across the country have no way of planning. If the government is serious about restarting the economy, the ability for businesses to be closed on short notice is hugely problematic. On a more general term, the ability for the government to lockdown areas of the country at will, with no notice or consultation with local councils, is extremely worrying.
Yes, we know they are trying their best. We know these are unprecedented times. But let’s be honest, we are well past the initial peak when decisions needed to be made on the hoof. Surely things have settled down enough for us to gather our thoughts and have proper measures in place for dealing with localised outbreaks. There are alternatives to Johnson and Hancock having free reign on deciding how, where, and when to lockdown individual areas of the country.
What seems like a lifetime ago, Johnson unveiled the UK alert levels, alongside the first steps of easing lockdown. At the time I commented to some of my fellow Renewers that there was no discernible link between the alert level and the lockdown measures. A clearer link provides certainty, but also offers flexibility.
The government can define specific lockdown measures dependent on the local alert level. Local authorities could then use them to meet local requirements. How can central government decide on effective measures on a local level? Additionally, if I know the alert level for my area, I have a better idea of what may happen next week and be able to prepare appropriately. It would also ensure people were more aware of how their actions directly affected local restrictions. The current, “behave or else!” approach isn’t working.
The beauty of aligning lockdown to the alert level is it also allows for exemption on, yes you got it, a case-by-case basis. When non-essential shops were able to reopen, we all knew that some would find it easier than others to implement Covid-19 secure measures. If non-essential shops are allowed to open at level 2 (for example), some individual shops could be granted permission to remain open at level 3 if they were deemed to have implemented more stringent protective measures than other premises. Not only does this provide flexibility, but it would help to drive up the quality of the safety measures being adopted. This same approach could be applied to pretty much every sector of the economy.
Lockdowns and restrictions are going to be part of our life for the foreseeable future. We are out of the crisis mode we had at the beginning of the pandemic and making it up as we go is no longer acceptable. We need a clear, coherent strategy for handling local outbreaks. Unfortunately, clarity and consistency are not this governments’ strong points.