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Let’s make the Fourth of July our Covid-19 Independence DayJune 7, 2020
This disastrous situation has gone on long enough. The start of next month should see a whole raft of lockdown regulations swept away
There was always going to come the point at which the Government had to declare success in so far as the exponential spread of the Covid-19 virus can be said to have been beaten back to a sustainable threshold. Of course, while there are many heroes, there are no victories to be celebrated in something that has been responsible for the untimely deaths of tens of thousands of people, including my own father.
However, the time is now right to end the process of cautiously removing one Jenga brick restriction at a time and instead accept that it is better to sweep them away and, if necessary, to build a new, more compact tower that is fit for purpose for the next – and probably lengthy – phase of this pandemic.
At the moment, ministers’ red boxes – overflowing with prescriptive “Covid safety” ordinances, in many cases running to thousands of pages, all seeking ministerial approval – are turning them into superannuated health and safety officers. The more experienced ministerial hands already recognise the unequal nature of this task.
So provided that the number of infections continues to stabilise, let us declare Saturday July 4 as our “independence day”, on which all restrictions other than those on a smaller and specific list fall. They can be replaced with a general duty of care to avoid recklessly spreading Covid-19 combined with the natural abundance of British common sense.
The balance of this month can productively be used to plan ahead, with all parties working to the same deadline. Socially distant weddings, christenings, graduations and staycations could all proceed in limited form, breathing life back into the small enterprises which form the lifeblood of the national economy and which are desperate for some certainty so that they can begin to prepare for the future. Such a concept is clear and, critically, much easier to communicate and to understand than the current step-by-step approach. “If it’s Tuesday, it must be the announcement on caravans and chiropodists,” is not the best way to get us out of a crisis.
The clarity of the Government’s “stay home, saves lives’ message will turn out to be one of the successes of the way it has handled pandemic but having taken root so firmly, it requires something equally unambiguous to displace it.
This approach also has the merit of freeing up ministers’ and advisers’ time so they can focus on the much greater challenge of mitigating the remaining damage being done to our economy and planning the road to recovery.
No government in history has ever faced the scale of the economic “dawn wall” that now needs to be conquered in order to protect the jobs, prosperity and public services of generations to come.
There is much to be optimistic about, however, and many opportunities to be seized. The pandemic has not removed any of our natural advantages, such as a strong adherence to the rule of law, our geographical position sitting between the Asian and American timezones and the fact that the English language is also increasingly that of the world.
The crisis has also seen businesses and Government innovate faster in 10 weeks than it would have done in 10 years normally. The UK has effortlessly moved to more than three-quarters of all transactions now being cashless, more than half of all adults using Government services digitally and half of employees working remotely.
Even prior to the pandemic, we generated more than half of our energy from renewable sources and zero-emission cars were outselling those with combustion engines. Each of these are huge and disruptive breakthrough points that Government policy can exploit to help unleash Britain’s potential as we emerge from lockdown.
So we should seize this moment and turn July 4 not only into our independence day, but also the start of a renaissance, a rebirth of the economy, creating new businesses, employment and opportunities.
Andrew Griffith is the Conservative MP for Arundel and South Downs and the former chief business adviser to Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister
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