The government is under pressure to release London from lock down. The number of cases in the capital fell to just 500 over the last two weeks. The all clear signal looms, as the case load falls. Yes, the sirens may well be heard at the beginning of June.
At peak in April, London confirmed 1,000 cases per day. A steep decline has meant the average has fallen to just 50 daily. Just one case was recorded last Thursday.
The excellent symptom tracker research at Guys Hospital under Dr. Tim Spector, suggests 2.2 million people were infected in the UK at the beginning of April. The average over the last few days has now fallen to 250,000. The Office For National Statistics data set suggests just 150,000 are infected, the vast majority north of Birmingham.
Alistair Benn in a Reaction Weekend update, interviewed Professor Sunetra Gupta of Oxford University. Guptra is author of the model which states that "vast swathes" of the population had already been exposed to the virus by the time lock down began. "In almost every context, we have seen the epidemic grow, turn around and die away, almost like clockwork ... to me that suggests that much of the driving force was due to the build up of [natural] immunity."
Social Distancing Measures could be ditched or certainly eased as the lock down eases. Public Health England suggested this week. Yvonne Doyle, medical director at PHE, confirmed the organization is amassing evidence to evaluate if the 2m rule is "absolutely necessary". The two meter rule is a "precautionary approach" and could change to allow closer contact! Really?
The World Health Organisation, together with France, Hong Kong, Singapore and China all seem to think one metre is enough. Pubs, clubs and restaurants will welcome the change, allowing life to return to a degree of normality in the leisure sector.
We are in the strange phase of transition. The guidelines have to be clear, concise and logical. The UK social distancing rule, is an international anomaly. Travel guidelines to the seaside, far from clear. Visiting grandparents in the North East of England appears to be OK for some but not for others. Why when we get there should we only see them, one at at time, in the garden, under police supervision?
Priti Patel added to the confusion this week. Welcome to Britain pamphlets would be offered to visitors. Travel in your own vehicle, stay in one place, quarantine for two weeks and see nobody for 14 days. The police will check up on your movements or lack of them. Cressida Dick, Commissioner of the Met was swift to social distance from the policy. May the force be with you but not on this one Priti.
Exceptions are to be made for farm workers and fruit pickers but not for business and tourism. Strange the priorities as policy unfolds, slowly to unravel as reality dawns ...
Borrowing Hits £62 billion in April ...
Economic policy was swift to unfold in April ... Eyes in Treasury must have been watering. Government borrowing surged to £62 billion. Revenues fell by 26%, expenditure increased by over 50%. Total debt increased to £1.9 trillion up to 98% of GDP compared to just 80% in July last year.
Retail sales dropped in value by over 23%. The VAT take fell by 44% as many businesses opted for deferred payment. The overall tax take fell by 36% as the economy foundered. GDP is expected to fall by 25% to 30% in the second quarter.
Rishi Sunak is now the most popular character in cabinet. The Chancellor is paymaster for almost one third of the working population. 1.5 million are unemployed, over 2 million have applied for Universal Credit. 7.5 million are now on furlough.The scheme will be extended into the third quarter of the year. The cost is expected to be £150 billion in a full year. It cannot continue for long. Businesses will have to chip in before the year is out.
The gloves are off in Treasury. This week, the Chancellor warned this is a severe recession, the worse is yet to come. The unemployment rate will soar if the furlough scheme is cut back without a return to normality and soon. The release from lock down will continue. Ditching of social distancing will follow. The messaging has to change. It really is safe to leave home and get back to work ...
That's all for this week. Have a great, safe, week-end, wash your hands, don't talk to strangers and stay alert!
The Saturday Economist
John Ashcroft publishes the Saturday Economist. Join the mailing list for updates on the UK and World Economy.
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