Young people should be released from the coronavirus lockdown to keep the economy functioning and to prevent deterioration in mental health, a group of Warwick-based economists has argued.

Under the plans mooted by the Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE), UK citizens aged between 20 and 30 who do not live with their parents could be free to work and to carry on with life as usual.

It is calculated that around 4.2 million individuals fall into this category, around half of 20-30 year olds.

According to a study produced by Neil Ferguson at Imperial College, London, the fatality rate from coronavirus for those aged between 20-29 is 0.03%, and the critical-care rate 0.06%

“The young cohort could be allowed to restart or open small businesses, restaurants, transport services, to buy and sell cars and houses, and much else. In the short run, their main customers might predominantly be the young,” the authors argue. This would allow young people “to go back to some form of moderately normal and largely unfettered life.”

Loosening the restrictions would be dependent on a “strict undertaking, upheld by the law” that young people should avoid all other adults.

The major public health risks associated with lockdown, wasted energies, boredom, inertia and the aggressiveness in the home (all of which are serious risks for younger age groups) could be ameliorated by a staged return to normal life.

As “keyworkers” fall prey to the virus in greater numbers, able, young people could be redeployed in strategic sectors like lorry driving and delivery work. “The young can become an ever-more vital foundation for the rest of society,” the authors argue.

The lockdown is likely to remain in force for at least a further three weeks beyond 13 April (when the first review is schedule to take place). At present, the scientific advice appears to support a so-called “suppress and lift” strategy. Successive waves of infections will be managed by re-imposing restrictions over and over again until a working vaccine is found.

“Suppress and lift” poses several problems. The economy would have to effectively remain in crisis measures – UK PLC with Rishi Sunak the Chief Executive. How would it be possible to plan for the next month let alone for three months into the future?

But there is no miracle of science available either. Treatment options which would relieve pressure on the NHS are still in their development stage. A workable antibody test which could allow the non-susceptible portion of the population some normality looks some way off. There is also no guarantee that the virus will disappear for good in the summer. It may well develop a seasonal pattern like influenza and a vaccine, at best, could take a year to roll out across the world.

“We are at war,” Emmanuel Macron told the French people before he imposed strict restrictions on the country’s social life to prevent the spread of coronavirus. But this crisis is nothing like a war. For many now alive, the experience of the Second World War would have been wholly unremarkable. My Grandmother used to recall housing a Polish POW in her garden – he was a famous kleptomaniac and was then recruited by the British Secret Services and sent behind enemy lines. This was the closest she came to the conflict – no bombs were sent down on Nairn.

Those who were asked to serve their country, the able-bodied men and women who effectively gave their lives over to the service of the country, were allowed to use their energies. To be told to “stay at home” is a far more difficult psychological state.

Solidarity is hard to define – but the conditions for it to unfold on a national scale are extremely rare. Wars of survival meet those conditions. Coronavirus doesn’t. The enemy passes between us in silence. Disease very rarely reshapes the national esprit de corps into a new kind of order. It rather pulls at the seams of things, and creates a generalised sense of uncertainty.

It is also highly unlikely to generate the remarkable consensus about how to move from warfare to normality that emerged after the war among Western policy-makers – that the state should take an ever more dynamic role in shaping collective goals – because the disease affects some parts of the population so much more severely than others.

Support for the lockdown is fraying – a phased introduction of an alternative must be planned for that balances the competing rights of those more or less vulnerable to the infection.

Lockdown in its current form is unsustainable – why not liberate the young first?