Whitehall officials like nothing more than a dashboard to help steer policy, and over the next nine days, the mother of all dashboards will be created – one whose “key metrics” will determine Britain’s route out of lockdown.
All will be revealed in a week. “On Feb 22, the Prime Minister will make a statement to the House of Commons where he will set out our roadmap to ease lockdown,” confirmed the Home Office minister Victoria Atkins on Friday.
Note that it’s a map and not a series of fixed dates which is being promised. Just as a driver’s journey is determined by the data on a car’s dashboard – fuel, speed etc – the Prime Minister will be guided by the data and, hopefully, only act when it’s right.
In Hollywood films, these dashboards appear on vast wall-hung computer screens but British officials still prefer theirs on paper – ideally, a single A4 sheet, divided into six to eight boxes, each containing one or more key metrics.
Within each box is a simple graphic representation, like a fuel gauge, which shows at glance the current state of play and progress towards the target. Each box is coloured red, amber or green to instantly pinpoint areas of strength and risk.
When David “Eco” Cameron took office in 2010, an edict went around Whitehall banning colour printing and officials were forced to replace traffic lights with text. Jokers wonder if this might explain why Mr Johnson, not known for his attention to detail, lifted restrictions all of a sudden last July, sowing the seeds for the virus to swell back again.
This time around, expect full-colour printing. Quite what the key metrics will be or their precise boundaries are yet unknown but expect them to include the following:
This is the big one and is likely to be in the top left slot of any dashboard, together with a reading for the R rate.
Ministers will want to get infection rates as low as possible before starting to open things up. High infection rates mean hospitalisations and deaths, a heightened risk of new mutations and the very real possibility of a fourth wave.