We’ve passed the peak - but Boris Johnson should remember that most accidents happen on the way down

Tom Clarke

Former Science Editor

As any skilled mountaineer will tell you, the majority of climbing accidents happen on the way back down the mountain. I worry the same may be true of the Covid outbreak.

If history is any guide, viral pandemics can have second peaks that can infect and kill even more than the first. The government’s “science led” policy factors this in. It’s urged caution in lifting lockdown too soon. Making it clear that five critical tests must be passed before any restrictions are lifted.

The policy might be sound, but if you apply the test to how it has been communicated to the public, they’ve failed straight away.

“Lockdown Freedom Beckons!” cheers the Daily Mail, “‘Stay Home’ advice to be scrapped,” says the Telegraph, “Happy Monday” splashes the Sun.

It would, however, be a very dangerous mistake to do what the newspapers seem to be encouraging us to do and ease ourselves out of lockdown on this sunny bank holiday weekend. There are even worrying signs it may already be happening. My Twitter feed reported London’s first traffic jams on Thursday morning after weeks of silent streets.

Estimates vary but its possible as little as 10% of the population has been infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. That’s 50-odd million people still at potential risk. The danger of a second peak is very real. Bear in mind, that even without a second peak, as many people are going to be getting sick and dying on the way down from the peak we hit a few weeks ago.

Boris Johnson has returned to work after recovering from Covid-19. Credit: PA

While we’ve got the capacity to test more people, and the NHS has endured the first lethal peak emerging battered but intact, we’re not ready to confront a major resurgence in cases just yet. A contact tracing system isn’t yet up and running, the virus is still at high levels in hospitals and care homes.

Boris Johnson had a far tougher climb than most up to the peak of this dreadful outbreak. He knows better than most how dangerous an illness Covid-19 can be for a significant minority of people.

Now at the summit he’s also aware of how keeping Britain under lockdown could so profoundly damage the economy that more people could die in the long run due to a combination of austerity and recession than would ever die from Covid-19.

But that is precisely why he has to tread so very carefully as he leads the country down from the very dangerous place we are still in.

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