Whitty's lockdown warning will trouble Boris

16 July 2021

8:04 PM

16 July 2021

8:04 PM

In a Science Museum webinar yesterday, Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, warned about the increasing number of people in hospital and said that, if in the next five to eight weeks ‘things are not topping out, we do have to look again and see where we think things are going.’

He added that ‘we’ve still got 2,000 people in hospital and that number is increasing. If we double from 2,000 to 4,000 from 4,000 to 8,000…and so on, it doesn’t take many doubling times until you’re in very, very large numbers indeed.’

The implication of these statements is that some restrictions could come back.

If this were to be the case, it would be politically devastating for the government. In the January lockdown, there was the solace that the UK was vaccinating a large number of people. That was the light at the end of the tunnel. This time, there wouldn’t be that consolation. The public mood would be beyond grim in these circumstances. The roadmap would have turned out not to be the ‘irreversible’ ‘one-way road to freedom’ that Boris Johnson so frequently described it as.

Whitty’s comments will only add to the growing nervousness in Whitehall. Although all legal restrictions bar the requirement to isolate are going on Monday, government guidance is far more cautious than expected even a fortnight ago. Look at how venues are being urged to use Covid certification. Ministers have gone from talking about an end to mask-wearing to emphasising how they’ll continue to wear them on public transport and in crowded places.

Most schools in England break up at the end of next week. This is, in effect, an intervention against the virus. But schools return in September. If new restrictions are imposed as schools go back, the government will find itself in the worst political position it has been in yet during this pandemic.

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