Last weekend, the country passed a significant milestone in the struggle against coronavirus. It was announced that over 15 million people had received their vaccination – almost everyone in the top four most vulnerable groups. The next aim of the vaccination programme is to inoculate all over-50s by the end of April. The sheer scale of the exercise is remarkable, and a tribute to the efficiency of the NHS.
Less encouraging was the news that the British economy shrank by 9.9 percent during 2020 – the worst contraction on record. Given that business activity had twice been shut down by Government fiat, this was unsurprising.
Nevertheless, the outlook is far from gloomy. Andy Haldane, the Bank of England’s chief economist, says that the UK economy is like a ‘coiled spring’, ready to release vast amounts of pent-up energy once the Covid restrictions are relaxed.
Which brings us to the question: when should that relaxation occur? The Prime Minister, whose own experience of the virus brought him close to death, is naturally cautious. Start reversing the lockdown too soon and we may see a rapid resurgence of the infection rate. On the other hand, the country simply cannot sustain a protracted economic freeze.
The positive impact of the vaccination programme is now becoming clear. Since January, the number of new cases has fallen by around 80 percent. As the vaccine rollout continues, so should the downward trajectory of infection.
Therefore, the Government should soon set out a clear roadmap for exit from lockdown. Nobody expects there to be an abrupt opening of the floodgates, but a clear vision for the gradual recommencement of economic activity does need to be outlined.
In North Wales, where the local economy is so heavily reliant on tourism and hospitality, businesses need clarity very soon. We are told that in 2021 more people will be holidaying in the UK than for many years. We want them to come to North Wales, rather than Cornwall, the Lake District or Scotland. And that means Westminster and Cardiff working closely together to provide them with the confidence to make their booking.