Cabinet will have to make "terrible trade-offs" when deciding lockdown end

14 April 2020, 08:12 | Updated: 14 April 2020, 08:14

By Fiona Jones

This former Cabinet Secretary told LBC why the government will likely extend lockdown longer than most people expect.

"It's a very difficult thing because it will require a politician to make some terrible trade-offs to look at the benefits of keeping a lockdown going versus the costs," said former Cabinet Secretary Lord O'Donnell.

This is after Dominic Raab announced the government does not expect to make changes to coronavirus lockdown restrictions this week.

For the Cabinet, there will be a much larger set of data to look at than just population deaths while having to judge when lockdown easing should begin, acknowledging the unfortunate need to balance health with fiscal stability.

"There'll be a crossover point where the costs of keeping the lockdown going are just excessive relative to the benefits and at that point we should start thinking about phasing," Lord O'Donnell said.

He stressed that while a cost of coronavirus is of course death, there have been a reduction of road deaths and deaths due to pollution as there is better air quality.

The government does not expect to make changes to coronavirus lockdown restrictions this week, Dominic Raab has said
The government does not expect to make changes to coronavirus lockdown restrictions this week, Dominic Raab has said. Picture: PA

"This is a meeting that needs not just the health experts...it needs the social scientists, it needs the psychologists, because as you rightly said there, will people just accept this, will they go back to work when we tell them to?" Lord O'Donnell said.

He said it would be "embarrassing" to ease lockdown early and then have to reimpose it, leading him to guess that the UK will end lockdown later than people estimate at the moment.

Nick commented on the friction between economists, who will insist lockdown should ease as the economy could suffer for the next twenty years, and health experts who will insist it should not.

There is an "absolute bias for the present rather than the future" and a bias "towards the visible rather than the invisible", the former Cabinet Secretary said, highlighting how difficult it is to pass through policy for future climate change issues.

"We see all those direct cases and deaths that you so tragically reported but the indirect ones, those deaths that result from people not going into A&E, not having the treatment that they should have had, no one's measuring them."

Lord O'Donnell said the Cabinet's bias will be present in the decision of when to ease lockdown.

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