October 15, 2020 - 3:00pm

It’s just been announced that London is moving into Tier 2 restrictions, meaning (in short) that people can no longer meet people from outside their household or bubble indoors. Which means my plans to play Warhammer in a bar in Stratford next Tuesday night are off. Won’t anyone think of the real victims, etc.

But here are two other points for consideration. First, I’ve seen people talking about “lockdown” — one of the Google autocomplete results for “Tier 2…” is “Tier 2 lockdown”. It’s really worth remembering what lockdown actually involved.

For months, we were only supposed to leave our house for exercising outdoors (once a day) and essential shopping (as rarely as possible). I sometimes would go for a run in the mornings and take my kids for their walk in the afternoon. If a police officer (or a busybody neighbour) had noticed me doing that, the police could have stopped me; I don’t think it was quite breaking the law exactly, but I was definitely aware that it was not permitted, and I am almost uncomfortable even now admitting that I did it. That rule remained in place until 11 May. Pubs didn’t open until July. Some schoolchildren went back part-time in early June, but most weren’t back until the new school year started in September.

Now, even under Tier 3 restrictions, schools — along with pubs and bars if they serve food — are remaining open. We are, as yet, nowhere near the stringency of full lockdown. It’s amazing how quickly the sheer weirdness of that period has faded: it has a kind of dreamlike quality when I think about it.

The other thing that’s worth mentioning is that we should be thinking in terms of a kind of coronavirus transmission budget. Imagine you have £20 for the day. You need to buy lunch, but you also want to buy a T-shirt and a video game. Your lunch costs £5 and the T-shirt and game cost £10 each. You’re just going to have to drop one of them, even though they’re the same cost; you’ll have to decide which you want more.

Similarly, we need to get R below 1 — or, if you like, we have an R budget of 1. If we want to keep schools open (and we do), and we need to keep essential work carrying on (and we do), then we already have a certain amount of transmission that’s going to happen: that gives us a minimum spend on R that we can’t avoid. So even if, say, two households mingling indoors is no worse than keeping restaurants open, we might not be able to afford both. We just have to pick which is more important from a social and economic perspective.

And, of course, the real question is whether it goes far enough. Since SAGE were advising a short but full lockdown some weeks ago, and the end of all non-essential face-to-face university teaching, and that hasn’t happened, I worry that it may not be, and that further restrictions will be required. Acting early seems generally to be the best idea. But I hope I’m wrong.

Tom Chivers is a science writer. His second book, How to Read Numbers, is out now.