Coronavirus: Lifting lockdown will be ‘trial and error’ process, says ex-Bank of England governor
Ministers said to be at odds over when to ease restrictions
The government must be honest with the public that lifting of the coronavirus lockdown will be a process of “trial and error”, a former governor of the Bank of England has said.
Mervyn King, who oversaw the bank during the 2008 financial crisis, said the “best weapon” in the government’s arsenal was to be “honest and open” with the public over the way forward.
He said it was impossible to say how long the current lockdown should last and suggested that ”some element” of social distancing would need to remain in place.
It comes amid reports of deep splits in the cabinet over when to ease lockdown measures, with some ministers pushing for the restrictions to last until the end of May.
Boris Johnson originally pledged to review the measures after three weeks, a deadline that will pass on Easter Monday.
However Dominic Raab, deputising for Mr Johnson while he recovers from coronavirus in hospital, said on 9 April that the lockdown would not be lifted until it was clear the UK had passed the peak of the outbreak.
Lord King urged ministers to be clear about the difficulty of an exit strategy, telling Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “I don’t think it’s sensible to just tell us all to stay indoors.”
He said the government had a “difficult balancing judgement” between keeping people safe and the damage to the economy.
“I think that given that a vaccine is a long way away, an exit strategy is going to be a process of trial and error,” he added.
Lord King said it makes sense to adopt measures which “reflect the need to keep some element” of social distancing, potentially a “large element”, while recognising it “is not the same thing as a total lockdown”.
He went on: “If we can allow schools, young people, some businesses to start up, while maintaining social distancing then I think we achieve our objectives, but it’s bound to be a process of trial and error.”
Lisa Nandy, the shadow foreign secretary, said the government must publish its exit strategy from the lockdown or risk damaging public trust.
“Now this [strategy] may change, they may have to revise it as the science changes, as we see the progression of this awful virus,” she told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.
“But what we know from countries like South Korea is that in a public health crisis, public confidence is everything.
“You have to be as open and transparent as possible with the public so that people understand why they’re being asked to do the things that they are and that they can see some kind of light at the end of the tunnel.
“So I think right now what the government ought to be doing is setting out very clear plans about how they plan to get us out of this lockdown and just levelling with the public about that so we can all prepare.”
Asked if Labour would support continuing the lockdown into the autumn, Ms Nandy said “of course” the party would back an extension if the scientific advice deemed it necessary.
Ms Nandy also called on the government to name an interim foreign secretary to replace Mr Raab, while he deputises for the prime minister.
Ministers are reported to be divided over when to lift the lockdown, with chancellor Rishi Sunak among those said to be pushing for restrictions to be eased from 8 May.
But Matt Hancock, the health secretary, wants the date to pushed back towards the bank holiday weekend at the end of the month, The Sunday Times reported.