The new tiered coronavirus controls for England will have a “significant” impact on the economy but allowing the disease to run unchecked will be “much worse” for public health, the Government has said.
In its impact assessment on the new regulations, released ahead of Tuesday’s crucial Commons vote, the Government said failure to maintain strong controls would lead to the NHS being overwhelmed, resulting in an “intolerable” loss of life.
The document acknowledges that controlling the virus would have “significant costs” for both individuals and society, as well as for the wider economy.
It pointed to the latest projections of the Office for Budget Responsibility, published with last week’s Spending Review.
They included a central forecast that if restrictions were broadly maintained at pre-lockdown Tier 3 levels until the spring, national income would fall by 11.3% while unemployment would reach 7.5%.
However, the analysis states that without strong measures, the R number – representing the rate of reproduction of the virus – was likely to rise significantly above 1, leading to a rapid expansion in cases, hospital admissions and deaths.
It said it was impossible to state with confidence what would be the economic impact of lifting the controls and simply allowing the virus to spread unchecked.
“However, the alternative of allowing Covid-19 to grow exponentially is much worse for public health,” it said.
“At the outset of the most difficult time of year for the NHS, and with hospital admissions already high, a sustained period with R above 1 would result in hospitals rapidly becoming overwhelmed.
“A stable and fully functioning health system is one of the pillars that underpins our society and our economy.
“The Government’s view is that the severe loss of life and other health impacts of allowing the NHS to be overwhelmed would be intolerable for our society.”