During the early part of his Budget speech the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, made one very pointed remark about the pandemic: “Today’s Budget does not draw a line under Covid. We have challenging months ahead.”
Indeed not. More than most, Sunak realises that whatever economic progress has been made this year and will be made in the coming years will be jeopardised by another Covid spike, with all that implies for restrictions on social and economic life, for the public finances and, not to be forgotten, the Conservatives’ political prospects and his own chances of succeeding Boris Johnson.
There are increasing signs that the current phase of complacency and a kind of “phoney war” on Covid – it figures surprisingly little in the headlines now – could be drawing to a close. There are more and more hints that certain modest elements of “Plan B” may soon have to be enacted, to forestall a much more violent lockdown later in the year. More than that, though, one senior public health official, Professor Lucy Chappell, chief scientific adviser to the Department of Health and Social Care, has admitted to a select committee the existence of a “Plan C” – stronger measures although not yet extensively worked up. Policies which go beyond plan B include limits on mixing in pubs, cafes and restaurants, and in homes.
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