As is so often the case, Mr Johnson was only half right, as things transpired. The government’s scientific advisers were indeed warning some weeks ago about the coming second wave, and advising strong action to avert a disaster. The evasive action the prime minister in fact took was to dither, ignore their main recommendation of a “circuit breaker” two-week national lockdown and then to publish their advice an hour after his press conference had finished. The new three-tier system and the “rule of six” will no doubt be of some help in slowing the spread of the coronavirus; but not enough in all likelihood to avoid an exponential rise in infections, hospitalisations and deaths, subject to the now familiar time lags.
Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, is a man of the world who well understands the economic and social damage that lockdowns inflict, not least to health outcomes unrelated to Covid-19. He is sympathetic to the challenges politicians face in naming choices. However, he could not disguise his conviction that the country is not yet doing enough to avoid another wave of infections, and one that could conceivably overwhelm the NHS in areas such as Merseyside.