We need to know the risks and rewards of ending the coronavirus lockdown soon

The shocking news of the Prime Minister being in intensive care brings the nation together praying for his speedy recovery. This will take some time and he needs his ministerial team to rise more than ever to the challenge of getting us through and out of the crisis.

Millions are suffering in ways never experienced before as we are tightly restricted in our movement. Only those who remember living through WW2 can have any inkling of this. Even then, the economy was allowed to function, people were allowed to go to work. The vast majority of us understand the reason for the lockdown, and that there is a huge cost to the lockdown in many areas.

Some people are suffering more than others of course. Most unfairly, in many different ways, it is the poorest, the lowest-paid who are facing the greatest pain, the toughest challenges, the biggest risks. These are the people who will be most affected by the decisions being made by ministers and their advisers. 

Those with a decent garden, those who live in the countryside, are being less affected day-to-day; at least they can get out and breathe the air, or go for a nice long walk along footpaths without the risk of being challenged by police.

The same people  are also likely to be better off financially than the millions living in flats in our big cities and towns, with no garden and only parks to go to. The huge majority are doing their bit and maintaining social distancing, reducing the risk dramatically of spreading the disease. 

The sound of well-off ministers, who enjoy a lovely garden and quite probably a second home, telling those far less well off, who live in far more cramped conditions, that they cannot even go out for a walk or to a park unless they behave properly is patronising and shockingly insensitive.

The children of the less well-off living in small flats also pay a price. They cannot go out and play as they used to. Their education will suffer more, as it is likely to be harder for parents to home school children in a cramped flat week after week. The risk of domestic abuse is rising by the week, with shocking new data already showing a 25 per cent increase in the last week based on calls made to one major specialist charity. Even children from wealthier families are scarred by the dislocation confusion and frightening circumstances. 

The lower paid are also paying another, even higher price. There is a cruel irony here. Nurses, care workers, ambulance drivers, soldiers, delivery drivers, cleaners and others who are on the frontline are to differing degrees facing the greatest dangers to their own health. They are more likely to fall ill with the virus, and more likely to end up in hospital due to their commitment at work.

Tragically, they are thus more likely to die than the middle class, better-off professional office-based workers  who are now home working. If the ministers had prepared for mass testing as early as January, like the Germans did, then these workers would be being tested weekly by now, reducing anxiety, reducing risk. 

Another group of low-paid workers who are suffering most from the pandemic policies are those who were on zero hours contracts. Generally, they are paid amongst the lowest hourly rates, with the least job security. They are the first who will have been let go by companies. They have received no support from the Chancellor, not even a whiff of recognition. Instead he focussed his first efforts on the big corporates, to protect the Chairmen and directors of large well known firms from embarrassment. 

Then there are the millions of self-employed, the freelance community of workers who are also often amongst the lowest level of earners. They had to wait again for an offer of help from the Chancellor, as long as you can wait until June. 

Clearly, it is the least well-off, the lowest paid, the poorest and the most disadvantaged in society who will benefit the most by an early easing of the lockdown restrictions. This is why it is unforgivable that so little planning is taking place for Lockdown exit, known as Lexit.

Removing the lockdown will not be risk-free until a vaccine is in place, which could be 12- 18 months away or longer. It is vital we all understand that, and we cannot wait that long. Nor can we wait for mass testing since this is months away, partly due to serious failings amongst ministers and Public Health England in procurement. 

Shockingly,  the Foreign Secretary has now admitted they are not yet really planning for Lexit, apparently they cannot multi-task in this way. This despite the fact that the NHS should, within just a few weeks, have enough ICU beds, ventilators, staff testing kits and PPE to cope with any expected surge in cases. There should urgently this week be a committee of experts from different sectors in preparing recommendations, analysing the pluses and minuses of an early Lexit and its possible phasing. Other countries, once again, are already ahead of us in planning their Lexit. 

So very soon, there must be a grown-up, honest explanation by ministers to the people of the risks and rewards of Lexit and the timing options. 

Only then can those suffering the most have their voices heard and say if they are prepared to accept those risks. My instinct is that the people will say yes, it is then a risk worth taking.