A Sustainable Exit Strategy: Managing Uncertainty, Minimising Harm

Covid-19 Covid-19

A Sustainable Exit Strategy: Managing Uncertainty, Minimising Harm

Posted on: 19th April 2020
By Multiple Authors
Ian Mulheirn
Executive Director for UK Policy and Chief Economist
Sam Alvis
Senior Advisor
Lizzie Insall
Policy Lead, Renewing the Centre
James Browne
Head of Work, Income and Inequality Analysis
Christina Palmou
Senior Economist

The lockdown imposed in the UK to slow the spread of Covid-19 has saved many lives. Across Europe, only full lockdown has worked to reduce the reproduction number of Covid-19 below 1, slowing the rate of spread and buying time. But the economic, social and other health consequences of the suppression measures are severe. The Office for Budget Responsibility anticipates a 35 per cent fall in GDP in Q2 if current restrictions remain in force through June, and unemployment is expected to rise by 2 million to 10 per cent. The longer lockdown goes on, the greater the chance of a significant permanent reduction in living standards. 

The UK now needs a sustainable strategy for Covid-19 that limits the damage to both public health and the economy. But easing the lockdown is risky. Without effective countermeasures, lifting social distancing and suppression measures could accelerate the spread of the virus, quickly putting us on a path to a very high number of deaths. To minimise the trade-off, a twin-track strategy of containment (through measures including mask-wearing, testing and contact-tracing) and shielding the most vulnerable from the virus is needed. This paper, which follows on from our previous paper on options for lifting lockdown measures, examines this twin-track strategy, and its possible components, while also looking at the exit strategies in place in other countries. 

There is inevitable uncertainty around when and how the UK can emerge from lockdown. But the government can act to minimise that uncertainty by issuing a contingent exit plan outlining the stages involved in reopening, what each stage will mean for different types of businesses and individuals, and the conditions required to move between them. Such a plan would allow businesses and people to plan, and begin to look to the future. 

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