Boris Johnson’s latest alleged coronavirus plan signals yet more chaos

Boris Johnson Tory government
Steve Topple

Sky News has reported that Boris Johnson is considering forced lockdowns for some over-50s. The move is said to be in an attempt to prevent a second coronavirus (Covid-19) wave. But the problems with this idea are numerous. And the latest opinion polling could hint at why the PM is considering this move.

Over-50s lockdown looming?

On Sunday 2 August Sky News reported that the government was considering additional lockdown measures. It noted that:

Millions of over 50s could be told to stay at home under a ‘nuclear’ option to prevent a new nationwide lockdown if there is a second wave of coronavirus.

Boris Johnson is reportedly considering asking a greater number of people in England to take part in the shielding programme should there be a big spike in COVID-19 cases.

A Sunday Times report said people aged between 50 and 70 could be given personalised risk ratings, taking into account factors such as age and medical conditions.

Ignoring chronic illness in younger people?

But crucially, as Sky News said:

2.2 million were deemed most vulnerable and asked to shield themselves from society during the spring peak of the virus – advice that ended on Saturday.

Here’s the first problem with Johnson’s alleged plan. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) did find that older people were generally over-represented compared to the rest of the population during the previous shielding advice. However, the picture wasn’t as clear-cut as ‘old vs young’. Rather ONS noted that there was still a proportion of younger people also officially told to shield.

So if the government is going to tell over-50s to shield, dependent on personal circumstances, then it needs to roll out the same approach to everyone . Anyone who has underlying impairments or health conditions, regardless of age, should be required to shield.

Not least in this is the fact that while lockdown measures have eased, talk of a “second wave” is growing. Without government support, people who were previously shielding could be forced into dangerous circumstances (like work, for example). Others may have no choice but to be exposed due to social security requirements or basics such as shopping. If Johnson is going to shield the over-50s on a case-by-case basis, the same logic must be applied to the rest of the chronically ill, disabled and sick population.

Financially motivated?

Another possible factor in Johnson’s plan is economics. As the ONS found, older people are generally better equipped, financially, with the economic shocks coronavirus has brought. As it noted:

While evidence suggests that both the youngest and oldest workers have been hit by furloughing and job losses, younger households are less likely to have enough savings to cover a loss of income and less likely to be able to cut back on spending.

So getting younger people back into the economy again may well be a central part of the Tories’ financial plans. But there could be another reason for the potential shielding of over-50s.

Electioneering?

As the PA news agency reported:

The public have continued to express dissatisfaction with how ministers have dealt with coronavirus. Almost half of those surveyed this week disapproved of the Government’s handling of the crisis – while 30% approved, said Opinium. The number of people who thought the lockdown had been eased too quickly rose by three points, up to 51%, in the past week.

Boris Johnson’s Conservatives have lost ground to Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour, according to a new survey. A slight decline in Tory popularity means they lead Labour by only three points, the poll suggested, with Mr Johnson’s party on 41% and Labour up to 38%.

The Opinium survey was carried out online between July 30-31, with 2,002 UK adults taking part.

Could it be, then, that Johnson’s over-50s plan is a little bit of electioneering?

Check the polling

In 2019, the Tories decisively won the general election with overwhelming majorities in the 45 years+ age brackets. So it could be that Johnson’s trying to appease this age group. In early July, Ipsos Mori researched public opinion on government lockdown measures. It found that 48% of people thought the government should have locked down earlier and for longer. 11% of people thought the lockdown happened “too soon or at the right time”, but that the government was relaxing the rules to quickly. But crucially, Ipsos Mori noted the demographics of these groups being, respectively:

The ‘Earlier, longer lockdown’ group is relatively likely to be aged between 45-64 (42% of this group are that age), and to have voted Labour in the 2019 General Election or Remain in the 2016 EU referendum (45% and 50% of this group respectively).

The ‘Becoming more cautious’ group is the oldest segment (39% are aged 55 to 75), is slightly more female than male (by 53% to 46%)… Half (52%) of this group voted Conservative in 2019.

So, is Johnson playing to potential and current older voters? Possibly. Alternatively, it may be just more bad economics and the selective and political application of science. But either way, risk-assessed shielding for over-50s, while allowing some of the sickest people in the UK to be exposed to coronavirus just because they’re younger, is ludicrous and dangerous.

Featured image via 10 Downing Street – YouTube

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