Iesha Small

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Data not dates to leave lockdown for good

screen shot of 14 faces on a video briefing for Independent SAGE committee

Expert members of Independent SAGE


England has just been given a set of dates to ease lockdown 3. I wish the Prime Minister had concentrated more on data milestones instead.

Earlier this week, Boris Johnson announced his road map to easing lock down restrictions in England due to coronavirus. The Prime Minister set out a series of dates when he expected key events to happen and elements of the existing restrictions to be lifted.

Naturally lots of media reporting and the attention of the general public has centred around these dates. I found this fascinating because on last week I watched the weekly briefing by experts who form the Independent SAGE committee and they explicitly stated that “Data not dates” was the best way of communicating to the public when restrictions would lift.

Independent SAGE say that data not dates is the best way to communicate when Covid restrictions should list. Share on X

Good news stories

I’ve drastically reduced my access to news since the start of 2021 to protect my sanity. Currently, I receive a weekly newsletter from Full Fact who  fact check claims made by politicians, public institutions and journalists, as well as viral content online. I also check Independent Sage’s website once every 1 or 2 weeks to keep up with impartial coronavirus reporting and advice.

Despite high death rates and still currently being in lockdown 3.0, there is some good news around coronavirus in the UK.

  • At current rates of vaccination (2-3 million doses per week) the UK is on track to have vaccinated all adults (both doses) by the end of September 2021
  • If rates of vaccination were increased to 5 million doses per week it would be possible to vaccinate all adults (both doses) by mid –July 2021

No lockdown future

We have great news about vaccination in the UK (reminder that some countries in the global south still have no dates for vaccine programmes or indeed don’t have enough vaccine for their populations). However, vaccination is not in itself a strategy. There need to be other measures alongside it to prevent the spread too.

What else will Boris do?

The Prime Minister’s roadmap says a lot about what will be lifted and when but seems to be quite light on what the government will be doing to ensure the spread is reduced so that it is safe for the proposed actions to happen.

“Good strategy works by focusing energy and resources on one, or a very few, pivotal objectives whose accomplishment will lead to a cascade of favourable outcome” – Richard Rumelt, Good Strategy Bad Strategy

Vaccinations are good but not a silver bullet on their own. Partly because patterns in vaccinations are reflecting existing inequalities in our society. Data has shown that rates of COVID vaccination are lower in poorer communities and among particular ethnic groups.  

5 pillars

Independent SAGE outlines 5 pillars of its strategy for a no lock down future

  1. Vaccination for all adults and children
  2. Widespread effective and efficient testing (and tracing)
  3. Make it easy for people to self isolate (people in lower paid jobs or on zero hours contracts may worry about how they can support themselves and any dependents if they have to self isolate for an extended time)
  4. Make public spaces safer. Hygiene, distance, circulation. This applies to schools, work places and hospitality.
  5. Open travel nationally but limit international travel.

Data not dates

I love a date to look forward to as much as the next person but hasn’t our government learnt from previous mistakes? We’ve had big chat around dates before, only to have promises dashed when the  data about COVID cases indicated that plans were not safe to be implemented at the times promised.

I’d much prefer an outline of clear steps that the government will take, along with some numerical milestones that can be measured. The meeting of each of these milestones could each unlock a new “gradual return to normal” prize for the population. (I’m writing this late and can’t think of a better phrase- but you get the idea!)

Data not dates because yo-yoing in and out of lockdown in nobody’s idea of fun and represents a failure of strategic leadership.


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Data not dates to leave lockdown for good