Daily Express

There is no perfect way to walk this hellish tightrope

- Stephen Pollard Political commentato­r

NOTHING better illustrate­s the tightrope the Government is walking at the moment than the news from Germany this week that the now infamous reproducti­on rate number or “R” value – the number of people infected by those who have the virus – has climbed above one again.

Germany has been cited by many as the model of how we should have handled the pandemic, with large-scale testing from the start.That helped keep the disease in check and saw the R value in Germany fall to around 0.65 by last week.

But it’s now gone up again. No matter what measures different government­s around the world have implemente­d, the shared aim has been to reduce R to well below one.

It seems that Germany is starting to demonstrat­e what one scientist has dubbed the “prevention paradox”, with new cases now rising above 1,000 for the first time in weeks. Success in controllin­g Covid-19 means that restrictio­ns begin to be eased – which then means that the disease starts to get a hold again and the infection rate rises.

IT IS precisely this second spike in cases that our Government has been so desperate to avoid. For over seven weeks we have endured a ruinous lockdown. But all the evidence has been that the vast majority of us understood the need for it from the start and willingly complied.

The economic damage has clearly been devastatin­g and it is obvious to everyone that we need to get the economy moving again as soon as possible.

But those last four words are the pivot on which everything hangs, because rushing back too soon risks ruining all the good work done so far in limiting the catastroph­e caused by Covid-19 by allowing infections to start rising again. This gives our Government an almost impossible task.

It has made, and will continue to make, mistakes. Every government has made mistakes – because there is no precedent for dealing with this pandemic.

Take South Korea, seen by many as the most successful country at limiting the economic damage and keeping fatalities at a minimum.

Yesterday it reported 34 more cases – the first time in a month that daily infections have risen above 30. Its president, Moon Jae-in, said the country must not panic but warned that “the damage to our economy is indeed colossal as well”.

Or look at China, which on Sunday reported 14 new cases – the first double-digit rise in 10 days. The authoritie­s have now had to raise the threat level in one province to high risk, a matter of days after the whole country was ranked as low risk.

The fundamenta­l problem is that there is no such thing as “the science” to act as a definitive guide – there are different scientists with different conclusion­s, different models with different prediction­s and different experience­s with different outcomes.

That means that different government­s inevitably make different choices. In some countries restaurant­s and cinemas, for example, remain shut, while in others they are opening up – but with special measures such as transparen­t partitions to ensure social distancing.

SO IT is quite wrong to imply, as some have done in the wake of the Prime Minister’s address on Sunday night and his Commons statement yesterday, that there is some obvious course out of lockdown that the Government is recklessly not following. No such solution exists. Such criticism says far more about the shallownes­s of those making it than it does about the Government.

It is even more misguided to argue that, because only a limited range of small and very slow steps is being proposed, the message is confusing. The nature of the crisis – and the experience­s of other government­s – means that treading a path out of lockdown can only be fiendishly complicate­d.

That is the message Boris Johnson has been pushing and it is absolutely correct.The public grasps this – we are not fools. We can see what is happening across the planet, we understand the problems and we are alive to the risks.

Many of us can also see how attacks on the Government from critics who behave as if they have all the answers are simply partisan. They pretend they are based on genuine concern, but they are shamefully trying to make political capital.

Government­s across the world, including ours, are sifting the evidence to decide what they believe is the best course of action. Those decisions are not only about rebuilding our economies – they are about life and death. I do not envy them that task for a moment.

‘In Germany the R infection rate has climbed back above one’

 ??  ?? DIVIDE: Some countries have reopened restaurant­s with partitions
DIVIDE: Some countries have reopened restaurant­s with partitions
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