AS expected, the UK and Scottish governments have decided, after the first three weeks of restrictions to contain the spread of coronavirus, that they should remain in place. Strictly speaking, that is not an extension, but the default position; the legislation allows for the lockdown to continue for six months (when it must then be renewed by the parliaments). Interim reviews are to see whether the circumstances allow for relaxation, or indeed, require tightening of the measures.

Though there are some encouraging signs that social isolation is having an effect on rates of transmission, this is not the time to let down our guard. Both Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, and the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon were at pains to stress in their daily briefings that a precipitate easing of restrictions could endanger the progress that has been made, and waste the enormous sacrifices that have already been made by so many.

They were right, too, to resist calls for a timetable on possible changes. If, as all the UK’s governments have accepted thus far, policy is guided by the science, it would be foolhardy to assume that the worst is past until there are solid grounds for believing matters are under control.

At best, we may have done enough to slow transmission, to buy time for the NHS to prepare, and to ready infrastructure to deal with this deadly disease. The questions that remain over the availability of PPE, or reliable testing, or other less urgent supply chains indicate we cannot yet be sure even of that.

Unless and until a vaccine is developed and ready for distribution, every country’s response to the coronavirus has been one of containment alone: the disease will not go away. A premature end to lockdown could make matters worse – and psychologically, it will be much harder to reintroduce necessary measures once they have been loosened.

But if we should not expect a firm timetable for the reopening of schools, factories or shops, we can at least enquire what the current thinking is on the criteria that will allow such decisions to be made. That might (and almost certainly will) include a combination of factors: confident assessment that the number of deaths each day is falling, widespread reliable testing to see who may have immunity, or certainty that capacity for treatment is not under the colossal strain that has existed to date. And it will not be a return to the status quo ante; it is much more likely to be limited opening of businesses or services with distancing enforced.

To obtain accurate information on the disease and its toll, to assist the front-line staff and volunteers who have received less support than their tireless work deserves, and for reasons of basic humanity, we also need to focus much more on care homes and areas of the system other than intensive care. Badges showing support for carers are not a bad idea, but they are a token, not a comprehensive solution.

Similarly, it is not to belittle the efforts of fundraisers such as Captain Tom Moore, to say that their hugely impressive contributions need to be lined up against the cost of this crisis. There will need to be a detailed description of how the economy can restructure; unprecedented government subsidy is welcome, but must be effectively directed – particularly for the poorest, and for small to medium businesses, on whom recovery will depend. We should not underestimate the damage caused, nor forget that ultimately it will need to be paid for.

All of this will depend upon clinical advice, and balancing the wider benefits and hazards of a continued isolation policy. We accept that the data may alter approaches or priorities, but it is reasonable to expect a general outline of the circumstances that may indicate whether a return to – if not normality – a less strict regime is possible.

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