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Coronavirus Kent: When and how we could come out of lockdown

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab yesterday revealed Britain will remain in lockdown until at least May 7 as efforts to control the spread of coronavirus continue.

Here, global business expert and Kent university professor Richard Scase sets out when and how home confinement measures could be relaxed.

Business expert Richard Scase says primary schools and nurseries could be opened first
Business expert Richard Scase says primary schools and nurseries could be opened first

Trends in Italy and Spain suggest the spread of the virus in the UK will peak sometime towards the end of this month.

There is still worse to come, then a plateau and finally a decline.

There are national and regional differences. The rate of infection is lower in Sweden than in the UK. There is no lockdown in Sweden. Primary schools remain open, as do shops, bars and restaurants.

The difference is because of lifestyle patterns. Social factors really do affect our health. People live alone in Sweden and these households are the majority of all homes. There is less public socialisation and meeting in public places, so social distancing is part of normal, everyday life. A national lockdown, so far, has not been necessary.

A deserted Margate beach during lockdown. Picture: Nigel Christian/Spitfire Drones
A deserted Margate beach during lockdown. Picture: Nigel Christian/Spitfire Drones

In the UK there are big regional differences in the spread of the virus. London is way ahead of the rest of the country. Much more so than in Kent.

It is more difficult to self-isolate in London. More people live in apartments with shared stairways and elevators. Narrow, crowded pavements act against the two-metre social distancing rule. There are fewer green, natural open spaces and so there is more recreation in crowded public places.

Many neighbourhoods in London have extensive family networks, often in ethnic and minority communities, where there are traditions of large social gatherings and family gatherings.

In Kent it is much easier for us to self-isolate and restrict the spread of the virus. More of us live in houses with gardens, however small. There are more open spaces and country walks for exercise.

Villages and small towns in Kent create feelings of ‘togetherness’ in times of national crisis. Neighbourhood help groups have emerged, doing shopping for vulnerable people, collecting medicines, checking to make sure family and friends are OK on a daily basis. This allows the most vulnerable to self-isolate and restricts the spread of the virus. Oddly, we are dependent upon others so we can be alone!

Two-metre gaps between shoppers queuing at Morrisons in Maidstone
Two-metre gaps between shoppers queuing at Morrisons in Maidstone

By the beginning of May, the worst should be over. The lockdown could be relaxed. But how?

This can hardly be done on a regional basis, with places like London remaining locked down while Kent's restrictions are relaxed because of its lower incidence of coronavirus.

It is also very low among young people. Only 58 (yes) people aged under 40 have died in hospital with the virus. This doesn’t mean the lockdown can be lifted for young people. They mix with older friends and families with uncles, aunts and grandparents. They can be unknown carriers of the virus.

But it should be possible to reopen primary schools and day nurseries. In the present lockdown these young children demand the 24-hour care of parents. Boys and girls of secondary school age are into computers, laptops, social media and demand less parental attention.

The M25 - pictured here near Swanley - has been quieter than ever during lockdown. Picture: Nigel Christian/Spitfire Drones
The M25 - pictured here near Swanley - has been quieter than ever during lockdown. Picture: Nigel Christian/Spitfire Drones

For this reason, electronic shops should be allowed to reopen because technology plays a key role in the emerging work, family and lifestyle patterns.

DIY stores encourage us to work on our homes, redecorating that room that has needed to be done for the last10 years. DIY can be a painful experience but it can also give us a psychological boost. Garden centres with controlled customer management ought to be allowed to reopen for the same reasons.

Through these pragmatic measures there can be a step-by-step return to normality but retaining the need for a high degree of self-isolation and social distancing in the medium term if this virus is to be defeated.

Perhaps not a total return to the pre-coronavirus ‘normal’ way of life? Why not continue with the new routine of more working from home? It reduces commuting traffic, cars on the road and improves the quality of the environment.

Police out on patrol in Whitstable during lockdown
Police out on patrol in Whitstable during lockdown

Air quality in our towns and cities has much improved during the lockdown. Business air travel that is a major contributor of pollution has almost come to a halt. Perhaps those global conferences and meetings are not so vital after all in an age of virtual communication technology?

In the future it is highly likely historians, reflecting on the coronavirus pandemic, will see it as THE major force that permanently transformed our ways of life in the earlier part of the 21st century.

For the latest coronavirus news and advice, click here.

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