New winter Covid restrictions would make it official policy to pray for a better day

A trip to the Scottish Highlands is always refreshing. Despite the shortening days, the hills were in perfect late autumn condition. It clears your mind and helps you reflect on what’s not working.

This time around, it was more interesting than usual: it illuminated the stark contradictions and hypocrisy of the current Covid regulations, administered in a haphazard manner through the UK.

It started in the BA lounge at Heathrow, where you have to order food via an app, rather than asking staff. But bottles of water are readily available for you to pick up, where you pile in as close as on a crowded tube.

According to a fellow walker, it emerged that although social distancing has been somewhat relaxed in Scotland, adults working in schools still need to follow bizarre regulations. It means teachers cannot meet and chat in the staff room over coffee. But if they go out to a local cafe at lunch time, they’re free to do so.

Nicola Sturgeon has been a major cheerleader for Covid restrictions. But during Cop26, the Scottish press was full of pictures of her shaking hands with Joe Biden, both smiling and mask free.

The different nations of the UK have of course implemented different policies at different times ever since the first strict lockdown was lifted in England in the summer of 2020.  

Yet the death rates from Covid since the start of the pandemic have been effectively the same across the home nations.

Wales for example has seen just over 6000 deaths compared to London’s 17,000. But the population of London is almost three times that of Wales, so the death rate is almost identical in the two.

Certainly, in the absence of either vaccines or voluntary changes in behaviour, lockdowns have impacted the timing of cases across the UK, but not the eventual number.

Restrictions come in and social mixing falls. So the ability of the virus to spread is reduced. But as soon as restrictions end, the process of infection and dissemination begins all over again.  

Unless the level of social interaction remains permanently lower than that which prevailed prior to a lockdown, there will be an inevitable bounce back of cases when they are lifted.

Of course, a major argument for the first lockdown in the spring of 2020 was that it would prevent the health service from being overwhelmed, leading to unnecessary deaths. Another was to buy time for effective vaccines to be developed.

At the time, very few people believed an inoculation would emerge so quickly.

It is easy to sympathise with politicians doing all they could to stop the spread of an unknown virus.

With a vaccine, now, the justification for further restrictions is much weaker, if existent at all. The purpose of restrictions would only be to suppress cases over the winter and hope and pray something will turn up to make the virus go away by the time the sun comes out again.

Wishing and hoping, of course, cannot be serious policy.

Medieval forms of disease control with little long-term effects will do nothing except hold us in stasis, once more.

As published in City AM Wednesday 17th November 2021
Paul Ormerod
Image: Flickr

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Alex O’Byrne, Associate at Volterra, is an experienced economic consultant specialising in economic, health and social impact, economic strategy, project appraisal and socio-economic planning matters.

Alex has led the socio-economic and health assessments of some of the most high profile developments across the UK, including Battersea Power Station, Olympia London, London Resort, MSG Sphere and Westfield. He has significant experience inputting to EIAs and s106 discussions as well as drafting economic statements, employment and skills strategies and affordable workspace strategies.

Alex is also experienced at economic appraisal for infrastructure. He was project manager of the economic appraisal for the City Centre to Mangere Light Rail in Auckland. He also led the economic and financial appraisals of the third tranche of the Transport Access Program for Transport for New South Wales, in which Alex developed and employed innovative methodological approaches to better capture benefits for individuals with reduced mobility.

He is interested in the limitations of current appraisal methodologies and ways of improving economic and health analysis to ensure it is accessible to as many people as possible. To this end, Alex recognises the importance of transparent and simple to understand analysis and ensuring all work is supported by a robust narrative.

Alex holds a BSc (Hons) in Economics from the University of Manchester and he was a member of the first cohort of the Mayor’s Infrastructure Young Professionals Panel.


Senior Partner

t: +44 020 8878 6333

Ellie is a partner at Volterra, specialising in the economic impact of developments and proposals, and manages many of the company’s projects on economic impact, regeneration, transport and development.

With thirteen years experience at Volterra delivering high quality projects to clients across the public and private sector, Ellie has expertise in developing methods of estimating economic impact where complex issues exist with regards to deadweight, displacement and additionality.

Ellie has significant experience in estimating the economic impact across all types of property development including residential, leisure, office and mixed use schemes.

Project management of recent high profile schemes include the luxury hotel London Peninsula, Battersea Power Station and the Nova scheme at London Victoria. Ellie has also led studies across the country estimating the economic and regeneration impact of proposed transport investments, including studies on HS2 and Crossrail.

Ellie holds a degree in Mathematics and Economics from the University of Cambridge.