To combat the pandemic government will have to get larger and more intrusive. That will need careful handling in the long run

Boris Johnson’s declaration of war on an invisible, elusive and advancing foe was long overdue. His reluctance to wage an effective campaign left the nation dangerously exposed to the deadly threat coronavirus posed. The prime minister had given the impression that this episode was a test of Darwinian fitness for the public and it would be possible to get through it without any upheaval to the post-election order. That was a substantial error of both judgment and ideology, the scale of which was laid bare by the government’s own analysis that an unmitigated epidemic could lead to 510,000 deaths.

Panic gripped and enlarged Leviathan, the sovereign power meant to protect us from one another. Harried by the bond markets, seeing parts of the economy approaching collapse and with the Covid-19 death toll creeping upwards, Mr Johnson’s government first created £200bn to stave off a run on its bonds, then nationalised the railways and finally ordered the population to stay behind locked doors.

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