What could the exit strategy from lockdown look like? DAVID BARRETT analyses how the Government could go about reopening schools, businesses, restaurants and bars
REOPENING THE HIGH STREET
Retail has been largely shut down since March 23. Some European countries have already set a timetable for when shopping will return to normal – even if social distancing remains in force. Germany is ready to set out its plans next week. The Czech Republic allowed some non-essential shops to reopen yesterday and Austria will allow smaller-scale retailers to reopen on Tuesday, along with garden centres and DIY stores. Larger shops and even shopping centres will follow on May 1. A staged reopening of the High Street is also likely here. Industry experts believe the sector may need an adrenaline shot to encourage people to get out and spend, such as a temporary cut in VAT.
Oxford Circus in London has been much quieter than usual, with shops closed because of the coronavirus. When the country starts to reopen, we can expect to see it more like this
Children were allowed to continue going to school for days after workers were told to stay at home. It is likely schools could reopen more swiftly than other parts of society – especially because of the lockdown’s potential impact on youngsters’ development and mental health. This week, research led by University College London concluded the evidence to support the closure of schools was ‘very weak’. It said shutting down schools ‘could have relatively small effects on a virus with Covid-19’s high transmissibility and apparent low clinical effect on schoolchildren’. Austria is to reopen schools in mid-May. Former World Health Organisation executive and Department of Health cancer expert Professor Karol Sikora suggested British schools could reopen as soon as May 4, depending on the progress of the virus. Other suggestions include a phased return, with them opening alternate days.
Stock image of a busy classroom full of enthusiastic children
Public transport operators in the UK will need notice from ministers about their services. New train and bus timetables will be necessary to avoid overcrowding as services have been slashed back since March. International travel will remain less of a priority. It is unclear how many countries will reopen borders and what they will require from travellers in terms of proving their health. Many airlines are unlikely to begin flying at the same time as domestic transport resumes.
Passengers getting off of a train onto a crowded railway station platform in the UK. Many experience this every day when the UK is running normally, but revised timetables will likely be introduced to reduce overcrowding as people return to work
PUBS, CAFES AND RESTAURANTS
In Austria, restaurants, bars and hotels will be allowed to reopen from mid-May. That seems optimistic for the UK but a phased reopening from June seems plausible. That would be more than two months since pubs were ordered to pull their last pints on March 20, and the hospitality sector may need further economic stimulus. Ministers could direct councils to lift all licensing restrictions which limit outside drinking or dining, to make it easier to practice social distancing. Could Chancellor Rishi Sunak even offer a temporary cut on beer, wine and spirit duties?
Stock image of a people gathering outside of a pub on a sunny day. Scenes like this could return to the UK in June as ministers could direct councils to lift all licensing restrictions which limit outside drinking or dining, to make it easier to practice social distancing
Stock image of a waitress serving a table in a restaurant. Could Chancellor Rishi Sunak even offer a temporary cut on beer, wine and spirit duties?
Reopening many of our workplaces will very much depend on the type of business and whether adequate social distancing will be possible. Professor Sikora suggested UK businesses with fewer than 50 staff could reopen at the end of this month, then offices on May 18. Businesses could be allowed to reopen with lower-risk groups first – such as younger employees. Testing would allow immune employees back to work. The lockdown could also work on a regional level. Cities hit hardest in the early stages may be ready to reopen in phases. Rural areas could also be freed from lockdown more swiftly. The Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling has suggested a rotated easing of restrictions would protect the NHS from overload.
A woman serves food to a mother and her young children at a cafe. Cafes are currently shut under government lockdown measures
Sports events, concerts and the rest of the arts will be one of the final pieces of normal society restored – because they remain a flashpoint for the virus’s spread. It is here that testing is key. Several companies are developing finger-prick antibody tests to detect whether the body has developed immunity to the virus after having it in the past. This information could be carried around in a smartphone ‘passport’ app that allows the holder to prove they have immunity. Ministers are also looking at wristbands or certificates. Professor Sikora suggested June 1 as a possible date for the resumption of mass public gatherings – if the virus’s prevalence and demand on the NHS remain at current levels.
If some prediction are correct, the lock down could be lifted in time for people to enjoy the Great British summer
Young people could be exempt from lockdown while older people have to stay at home, under one plan which ministers may be asked to consider. Allowing fit, younger people to resume their lives would help restart the economy and build up ‘herd immunity’ faster. The so-called ‘re-wilding’ strategy would be controversial because it could be seen as discriminatory and ageist. But some experts see it as the best way to protect the elderly and vulnerable.