Soon, we will need some clarity on how we exit the lockdown



Our response to the Coronacrisis has been extraordinary.

From more than 20,000 former health workers who have returned to work, to the 750,000 people who have volunteered to help the NHS, or the thousands of small businesses working round the clock to provide essential support to older households – there has been a huge outpouring of self sacrifice and collective concern. To see these qualities of collectivism and responsibility during an unprecedented crisis is truly inspiring.

The speed and skill of the engineers and scientists working tirelessly to produce the innovations and equipment we need is equally encouraging. Medical laboratories are working frantically to design vaccines and anti-viral drugs; new testing kits will soon roll off production lines in their millions; and manufacturers and researchers are inventing new ways to save lives.

Even more so, the way the government has mobilised itself has been inspirational. Whilst they may have received some criticism for their delay in procuring protective equipment and rolling out tests to health workers, these problems are common to almost all Western countries who have been caught by this pandemic. NHS Nightingale has already opened its doors, and new regional structures that coordinate all aspects of the crisis response are in place. 

But the biggest challenge is yet to come. Leading the nation through extraordinary measures, and encouraging unprecedented mass participation has been the task up until now – but what will be the lockdown exit strategy? 

It won’t be long before millions of businesses and the rest of country want to know. Although we heard Dr Jenny Harries, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, suggest the lockdown may continue for a further three to six months, individuals – and businesses – will want more detail. 

Most high street restaurants and cafes have had to close until further notice. And, whilst the government’s ambitious support packages will stave off the worst hardship – it cannot shield everyone forever. With no source of income, small businesses will need to apply to the government’s loan scheme. This may be reasonable stop-gap for now, but it isn’t a long-term solution.

Before April is out, we need to make it clear there is some end in sight.

As someone who’s worked in government, I understand that the most difficult task is to devise a plan for the phase after a crisis. Now is the time to designate a senior minister to work, design, and implement the massive programme – combining tests and other measures – that we will need. Yes, the next few weeks are going to be tough, but what happens next will be just as big a test of the government and country. 

Shabnam Nasimi is a Conservative commentator the Director of the Conservative Friends of Afghanistan. Follow her on twitter: @NasimiShabnam