elerian133_Gareth CattermoleGetty Images_uk lockdown Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

England’s Lockdown Lessons

Although some remain inclined to point the finger at the UK government’s missteps in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, the explanation for its evolving approach is more complex. It also holds important lessons for managing future crises.

CAMBRIDGE – UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s recent warning that the lifting of England’s current third lockdown will be no “great open Sesame,” despite the fall in infections and the encouraging progress of the country’s COVID-19 vaccination program, should come as no surprise to anyone who has been following the underlying dynamics of the virus. So, why did Johnson’s government not take this approach during the country’s first two lockdowns?

Although some remain inclined to point the finger at the government’s missteps, the explanation is more complex. It also holds important lessons for managing future crises.

After England’s initial lockdown last spring imposed a sudden and powerful brake on social interactions and significantly damaged the economy, the UK government was keen to restore dynamism to particularly hard-hit sectors. For example, it launched an “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme, which offered discounts on meals in restaurants, pubs, and cafes during August. Although the government was less permissive when the country exited the second lockdown in December, it did allow a certain amount of social and economic interaction and eased the restrictions further in much of the country for Christmas.

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