Summing up the mood among most Tories, the former Business Secretary Greg Clark said on Thursday: “It does seem strange to think that concentrating trade in a smaller number of hours, and making everyone leave a pub or restaurant at the same time rather than spacing them out over the course of an evening, should suppress rather than spread the virus.”
Yet it isn’t just the fuzzy thinking behind the policy that has united all parties in condemnation, with both Labour and the Liberal Democrats now calling for the curfew to be scrapped.
Even more problematically for Mr Hancock, the scientific basis upon which he initially argued for the time-limit is disintegrating almost as quickly as support for the measure itself.
The Health Secretary had stated that “elsewhere in the world they have introduced evening restrictions and then seen their case numbers fall”. Yet while countries that did introduce a curfew, such as Belgium, did see an initial fall in infection rates, new Covid cases are now rising sharply.
Not all the boffins are onside either. “The 10pm curfew will likely have little or no impact,” said Dr Michael Head, a senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, when it was first introduced on September 24.
“A far better approach would be to shut all pubs and restaurants and properly compensate businesses and employees for the loss of income. This would ensure that public health is prioritised, and that business and staff are in a stronger economic position when they are allowed to resume.”
Dr David Strain, a senior clinical lecturer at the University of Exeter, agreed, saying: “Closing down restaurants and pubs earlier will do little to stave the spread for as long as multiple different households can interchangeably meet up.”
Yet with such strong Tory opposition to a second lockdown on economic grounds that option appears an impossibility, despite Boris Johnson’s insistence on Wednesday that more sacrifices might have to be made.
With Mr Hancock conceding on Thursday that he would be happy to look at “other imaginative ideas”, yet another U-turn appeared to be in the offing. Conservatives are understandably wondering when the Prime Minister will call time on coronavirus policies that have the appearance of having been written on the back of a beer mat.