On the evidence, Britain is not yet ready for experiments in easing the lockdown.
As of 1 May, the seven-day moving average of daily deaths from the virus is only 20-odd per cent down from its peak around 13 April. By contrast, Spain, Germany, Denmark, and Austria are all about 50% down from peaks in early April, Italy is 60% down from a peak in late March, and France is over 50% down from a peak in mid-April.
Basing calculations on case numbers is tricky because they reflect the extent of testing as much as the extent of cases. But in Britain the number of daily new cases is declining only slowly and the number of “active cases” is still rising, while in those other countries it is falling.
Scientists talk about easing lockdown and switching to a “tracking and tracing” emphasis. Britain at present has 15-20 times the number of confirmed “active cases” in proportion to population that South Korea had at its peak. It is hard to see how a “tracking and tracing” emphasis could work without the number of “active cases” being brought down to a much lower figure.
It is possible that some elements of the lockdown have marginal effect on the pandemic and could be eased while increasing risk only marginally. Lockdowns have varied a lot in detail from country to country, and some items of the British lockdown have been absent from lockdowns in more “successful” countries such as Germany and Australia. Stopping the deaths in care homes depends on quite other issues than lockdown.
The lockdown-easings so far in a range of countries have all “worked”, pretty much. The lockdown-easing in the Czech Republic has “worked”, and indeed has been speeded up in the light of experience. The only cases where lockdowns have been reimposed after easing have been in Hokkaido (Japan) and Singapore, and there the broad trend of decline of infection has continued.
The lockdown has severe social and medical costs of its own. It would be wrong to construct our policy just by saying no where the mostly-right-wing lockdown-easing enthusiasts say yes, yes where they say no.
Even more wrong to trust the Tories to calibrate the easing. “This or that easing? Maybe. Show us the plans, and give the labour movement resources and time to do detailed risk assessments before each move is made”.
All lockdown-easings are likely to be limited for a long time. At present re-licensing “mass gatherings” is at the very end of the governments’ lockdown-easing schedules almost everywhere. With festivals, concerts, spectator-sports, big religious events, etc., there may be a case.
But protests and picket lines can be - in fact, some have been - organised with social distancing at least as good as most workplaces which have continued in the lockdown. We should demand the lifting of the ban on demonstrations and picket lines early in the easing.
Our demands for requisitioning, workers’ control, isolation and fallback pay, rent and utility bill cancellations, PPE, and integration of social care into the public sector on public-sector conditions, will not fade. They will become more vital with easing.
The accumulation of debt during the lockdown creates a real risk of a snowballing slump and job cuts developing not just from the lockdown as such, but also, and maybe even more so, from the easing of the lockdown, as creditors start coming after debtors. We demand public ownership and democratic control of high finance.