Could the UK ever go into another lockdown?

Unrest is growing in Shanghai. For weeks, the city’s 25 million residents have been forced to quarantine due to a COVID-19 spike. Food is being rationed and residents are only allowed to leave their homes for mandatory COVID tests.

Those with positive COVID cases, and anyone who had been in close contact with someone with a positive result, are being sent to quarantine facilities. While residents are being forced to leave their homes so they could be made into temporary isolation facilities.

Small protests have broken out in the city and civilians are even taking to China’s highly controlled internet to voice their discontent.

Many of these expressions, including videos of civilians being physically restrained, have been taken down by the government.

Indeed, the ghost of COVID continues to loom heavily over Shanghai. Yet, COVID-related restrictions seem a distant memory here in the UK – shops, restaurants, and clubs are open, and isolation is no longer required upon a positive test.

Despite this, as we came to the two-year anniversary of the first UK lockdown, Boris Johnson announced the possibility of a future lockdown, describing the ruling out of potential lockdowns as “irresponsible”.

Is another UK lockdown possible?

Self-isolation rules and requirements to wear face masks in public settings have been scrapped in the UK, marking a milestone in our route out of the pandemic. Despite the easing of restrictions, government officials still warn of the potential of another lockdown.

A report from The World Health Organisation said the pandemic could be over by the end of this year. However, this can only occur through a global effort to reduce transmission and distribute jabs to unvaccinated countries.

The document also warns of a potential pandemic “reset”, whereby a new strain or hybrid variant emerges. The WHO report suggests that in a best-case scenario, vaccinations and immunity from past infections, as well as less severe variants, will stop this from happening.

So, could the UK realistically go into another lockdown? The short answer is yes. Unfortunately, there will always be the prospect of another lockdown until the possibility of a dangerous variant disappears.

Addressing the prospect of future lockdowns, Johnson said: “I think it would be irresponsible of any leader, in any democracy, to say that they’re going to rule out something that could save life. And I believe that the things that we did saved lives.

“There could be – I’ve got to be absolutely frank with you – there could be a new variant, more deadly, there could be a variant that affects children, badly, that we really need to contain. I’m not going to take any options off the table.

“But I don’t think it will happen. I think we’re now in the phase of – and this is the view of all the advisers I talk to – that we’re now in the phase where the virus is losing its potency overall and we’ve got a massively vaccinated UK population.”

But the reality of the situation is that the UK public is likely to be unwilling to re-enter another lockdown after having a taste of ‘normality’, especially as most of the British public have either had COVID or been vaccinated.

In a recent report by the Office for National Statistics, it was found that more than seven-in-ten UK citizens have had COVID-19. Showing that many people have likely had the virus and suffered mild symptoms.

At the start of the pandemic, the fear of a more dangerous COVID strain was a key factor in urging people to abide by lockdown rules. This fear just doesn’t exist in the same way as it did at the beginning of the pandemic.

After the scrapping of all isolation and testing, it will be difficult to get the public into a frame of mind where they are willing to alter their lives again to stop the spread of a new variant.

Lockdown was a challenging time for most people, with mental health issues increasing dramatically in the UK during this time.

Many UK businesses, particularly in the hospitality, entertainment, and construction sectors, suffered tremendously as a result of the lockdowns. With inflation on the rise, another lockdown could prove catastrophic for some businesses.

In a survey by Savanta, one-in-five businesses were likely to close down or stop trading as a result of the UK’s second lockdown at the end of 2021. In the same survey, 77% of businesses felt the second lockdown would negatively impact the UK economy.

Arguably, asking the public to be confined to their homes once more, would have a tremendous impact on the UK public and businesses. This may be an incredibly challenging, if not impossible task for the government.

How might another lockdown impact businesses?

Even if a business doesn’t rely on in-person interactions, the possibility of another lockdown maintains a level of uncertainty for both businesses and employers. Uncertainty which many would be unhappy to be free from.

Sandra Rowley, from Take Payments, comments: “The news that the government will not rule out further potential lockdowns is a massive blow for small businesses. Our recent report revealed almost two-thirds of business owners see lockdowns as the biggest challenge for their business in 2022.

“Business owners are already facing financial strain from the cost-of-living crisis, staffing shortages and supply chain issues to increased energy prices. The last thing small businesses need is to close business due to rising COVID infections which could have been prevented by introducing more relaxed restrictions such as face masks and social distancing.

“Almost one-fifth of business owners are worried about what support is available if they have to stop trading again due to a lockdown as many businesses are already struggling to make repayments on COVID loans which the government provided to businesses during previous lockdowns.

“Unless the government is willing to offer support which financially benefits businesses, it’s hard to comprehend imposing another lockdown on businesses that are already struggling and have been struggling over the past two years.”

However, Matt Gubba, Founder and CEO and BizBritain, believes another lockdown would be intolerable for businesses and the public. Gubba said: “We are in a fundamentally different place now than when lockdowns were realistically on the table. It would be neither politically nor economically viable for the Government to consider another lockdown at this point. Of course, there will always be a small number of fringe extremists calling for lockdowns until the end of time because it suits their agenda.

“But, those voices are not representative of either the Government’s position or the broader appetite of the public. I strongly believe most people would not tolerate any further restrictions on their lives at this point. Particularly given the wider climate of price increases, rising inflation, and war. Time to leave lockdowns firmly where they belong; the past.”

Clive Hall, CEO of Place Informatics, commented: “Data from previous lockdowns actually showed that they had a positive impact for some local towns as people steered clear of larger cities and shopping centres but the restrictions undoubtedly caused many businesses to lose revenue.

The biggest impact from any future lockdowns will be the reduction in footfall in shopping centres which will see the loss of discretionary spending they so desperately rely on. Also restaurants, cafes and clothes shops will be at a disadvantage no matter where they are based.

Our data also showed from previous lockdowns that retail parks will always fair better for footfall, particularly if there is a dominant Aldi, M&S or similar. DIY and home improvement retail outlets also saw an increase in demand and footfall increased.

As more people work from home, our data has shown that local towns and communities are actually seeing an increase in footfall as these homeworkers use more local facilities and it would be a shame to cause further disruption to so many local businesses across the UK as they start to recover from a tough couple of years.”

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