14 May 2020
What is Talking Points?
Cambridge News asks a representative of each local political party to answer a question on a local issue in just 300 words. The answers are then published in the physical copy of the Cambridge News every fortnight. Here, we share our response to the question.
Today's Question: Which sectors should be prioritised when social distancing rules are relaxed?
At the time of writing the government is formulating plans for a staged re-opening of schools after half-term. After weeks of lockdown that may be a relief to worn-down parents and probably popular with stir-crazy kids (as well as having clear educational benefits) but schools are probably just the wrong places to start easing the lock-down.
We know that gatherings of large numbers of people who spend significant time in close proximity to each other are like rocket fuel for the spread of Covid-19. We also know that running schools with any sort of robust social distancing measures in place is all but impossible.
Luckily children don’t seem to be at risk of serious harm from the virus, but they are at least as good at spreading it as adults. Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine investigating the 2009 influenza pandemic found that timing of school holidays was crucial. Had that epidemic not been interrupted by the school holidays, the peak incidence would have been 170% higher. Schools have a significant effect on the spread of a virus.
No, relaxing the lockdown should begin elsewhere. We should start with small shops (regardless of what they sell) and other small businesses that are most important to building local communities. Businesses that employ just a few people are less likely to pose a risk of spreading the virus.
Social distancing rules will still be necessary and we need to be sure that employers are not putting their workers at risk by being tempted to cut corners. As so often before in this crisis this shows up the baleful effects of a decade of Tory austerity. The Health and Safety Executive, the body that would police this process, is reeling from cuts of a third to their government income.
Our response was written by Jeremy Caddick. Jeremy was the MP Candidate for Cambridge in the 2019 General Election. He has lived in Cambridge for more than 25 years and is the Dean and Chaplain at one of the Colleges in Cambridge University. He campaigns for the University to cut its links with fossil fuel companies.