Looking beyond the Easter coronavirus lockdown

  • By Peter MacMahon, ITV Border Political Editor

In coronavirus Britain, Easter will be the most difficult of times. Normally, most of us would be taking a break, and getting away. We may be doing one of those, but not the other. Abnormal has become normal.

The lockdown will continue over Easter and it appears it will be vigorously enforced by the police, north and south of the Border.

And it is very clear the unprecedented restrictions in our civil liberties which the COVID-19 outbreak has led governments to impose will not be lifted any time soon after Easter Monday either.

The reason is simple, if chilling. The number of cases of coronavirus and, sadly, deaths continue to rise.

That peak in the grim graphs the statisticians and politicians have been watching for, indeed hoping desperately for, has not yet been reached.

And even if there is success in 'flattening the curve' - reducing cases to a level where the NHS can cope but is not overwhelmed - lockdown will not be unlocked.

Nicola Sturgeon made that clear again today at a virtual session of First Minister's questions. The restrictions will be in place for "some weeks to come," she said.

Credit: PA

Despite some reckless briefing in Westminster earlier this week, we can expect exactly the same message from Boris Johnson's de-facto deputy Dominic Raab and the UK government.

For although there have been some differences, north and south of the Border the policy in St Andrew's House and Whitehall is essentially the same.

It is this. Keep the country in lockdown with the expectation (or is that hope again?) that the lack of contact between people will reduce the rising levels of infection, and eventually reduce it.

At the same time, increase emergency health provision, increase testing for key workers and push on with trying to find an antibody test which could show if people are immune.

Only if the infection levels begin to fall and an antibody test which works becomes a real possibility might politicians begin to relax these extraordinary measures.

And their greatest challenge when they do begin to consider their 'exit strategy' will be managing public expectation.

Dominic Raab claps for carers outside of No 10 Downing Street. Credit: PA

If people suddenly think the coronavirus crisis is over, and the nation starts to work together, party together, or shop together again the danger is the virus rears its ugly, lethal head again.

Quite correctly, our politicians have been under a lot of scrutiny during this crisis. Did they prepare well enough for a pandemic? Were they too slow to move on testing? Even with the billions promised, have they pledged to spend enough?

But at least spare a thought for Nicola Sturgeon, and a hopefully healthy soon Boris Johnson, when they come to make the decisions on when and how to end the lockdown.

There will be arguments, good arguments, based on scientific evidence for maintaining it, for relaxing it gradually or raising it altogether.

In the end it will be a judgement call based on the best advice they can get, but a judgement call it will be for Mr Johnson, or perhaps Mr Raab, and Ms Sturgeon.

For the sake of the physical and economic health of the nation we're all counting on the First Minister and the Prime Minister making the right call.

Our lives, and our livelihoods, depend on it.