When I started this blog less than a week ago, I suggested there needs to be a reasoned and balanced Public debate on the view first expressed by President Trump at a Press Briefing on 25th March, when he said “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself”.
There is now a danger that the “Cure” is in fact becoming “worse than the problem itself” A slew of headlines in the last few days seem to confirm this :
- The Office for Budget Responsibility said the economy could shrink by 35 % this Spring, with unemployment soaring by two million to its highest level since the 1990’s. The OBR also said government borrowing could hit its highest level since the Second World War.
- The UK will suffer its deepest recession for over 300 years if the coronavirus lockdown continues into the summer, according to the OBR, a slump not seen since 1709.
- The International Monetary Fund also said that the UK was heading for its biggest slump since the Great Depression of the 1930’s
Rishi Sunak the Chancellor stressed that these dire economic forecasts – which assume the lockdown continues for another two months – were “just one potential scenario”, but he did say it was “important that we’re honest” about the economic impact of the virus causing “hardship ahead”.
Sunak also made an important point when he said that “the single most important thing we can do for the health of our economy is to protect the health of our people”.
“It’s not a case of choosing between the economy and public health – common sense tells us that doing so would be self-defeating.”
Rishi Sunak speaking during the daily remote Press Conference from Downing Street 13th April 2020
Sunak’s comments brought home to me that Trump’s statement that the “cure cannot be worse than the problem itself” over-simplifies the crisis, and the twin issue of both a public health emergency and an economic emergency are inextricably linked.
The Chancellor’s honesty is refreshing and rare from a Senior Politician at this time. The performances of Matt Hancock, Health Secretary, Dominic Raab, Foreign Secretary and Acting Prime Minister and Priti Patel, Home Secretary at the daily Press Conferences have not been inspiring. Their responses to legitimate questions from reporters have been evasive, and could be described as deliberate obfuscation ie making answers less clear and difficult to understand, often intentionally.
Interestingly, the Politicians are not announcing the big policy statements, but allowing their Scientific and Public Health advisors to give the true situation. eg Professor Neil Ferguson from Imperial College stated on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the UK will have to maintain a “significant level” of social distancing for the foreseeable future until a vaccine is developed.
Asked about easing the measures, Prof Ferguson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think the other thing I would say is that it really requires a single-minded emphasis in government and the health system on scaling up testing and putting in place the ability to track down cases in the community and contact-trace.