Last week, ConservativeHome called for the Government to broaden and deepen the national conversation about Covid-19 – or at least try to as best it can.
It is essential to see the disease in the round by understanding the consequences of lockdowns, restrictions and the virus itself on both lives and livelihoods.
For livelihoods, read what’s usually called the economy, a dry term, but is actually a human story of lost jobs, lower living standards, higher poverty, damaged schooling and vulnerable sectors, including hospitality and retail.
For lives, read healthcare outcomes other than Covid-related ones. In other words, cancelled operations and fewer treatments, as well as (for example) worse heart disease, cancer, mental health and domestic abuse outcomes.
This is why we urged the Goverment to publish –
- A regular Treasury report that calculates the economic cost of the lockdown.
- A rolling Department of Health assessment of the human cost of the shutdown.
- The creation of an economic counterweight to SAGE.
We also suggested that some think-tanks have the capacity to issue comprehensive reports.
This site originally urged this course during the spring, and is far from alone in having done so. On which point, congratulations to the Daily Mail, which today publishes a four-page investigation into health outcomes. It finds –
- 25,000 more people died at home during pandemic, since they didn’t go to hospital as it continued.
- There is set to be a 20 per cent rise in cancer patient deaths because of treatment backlogs.
- Organ transplant operations fell by two thirds while waiting list deaths doubled. More than 50,000 operations for children were cancelled.
It’s worth pointing out that some of these outcomes will have been a consequence of Covid-19 itself rather than restrictions – for example, people not going to A & E departments in order to reduce the risk of catching the virus.
The line Matt Hancock took yesterday in the Commons is that suppressing the virus is integral to better health outcomes, because the more NHS resources the virus demands the fewer there will be for other conditions.
But a question that obviously follows is whether or not the Government’s strategy, which is dependent at present on big lockdowns, is the best means of protecting the NHS.
It’s worth noting that a Department of Health analysis has said that “in the long-term, the health impacts of the two month lockdown and lockdown-induced recession are greater than those of the direct Covid-19 deaths”.
The Mail is not alone in trying to get its readers to look at the Coronavirus in a more full context. Yesterday, the Daily Telegraph reported that the ‘Protect the NHS’ message led to 90 per cent drop in hospital admissions.
The Times last Friday urged the Government to be “more transparent about the economic and health costs – the same day that we took much the same view.
And a wide range of Conservative MPs are increasingly calling for the kind of action we have outlined. Theresa May has called for more formal economic advice. Steve Baker, writing on this site yesterday, urged Ministers to publish “serious analysis of the costs of the options they face”.
Downing Street will be reluctant to take this course, and thus indicate that the Government might change its strategy, while it is doubling down on the present one.
In political terms, that’s what our report yesterday about new LAMP and lateral flow tests signified. Number Ten believes that these can deliver where track and trace has not (though it is not abandoning the latter).
So it is trying to persuade Tory backbenchers not to abandon the testing strategy, and transfer their support either to lockdowns and a permanent suppression plan, or to loosening and a more voluntarist approach.
We shall see whether this push pays off – and if this planned massive scaling-up of new tests works. ConservativeHome’s understanding is that the Treasury hasn’t ruled out a big report on economic costs.
However, Government sources pointed out that much of the required data is already available (i.e: unemployment figures), and that it would be hard to disentangle the effects of restrictions from those of the virus more widely.
We also detect a concern about the consequences of publishing bad economic news: on the one hand, the Treasury has an interest in alerting voters to the scale of the economic challenge, but none in alarming them.