THIS year the GERS figures are even more misleading than usual because they have been published in the middle of the pandemic crisis.

The much worse performance of government expenditure and revenue, compared to last year, results from the alarming combination of a great increase in health spending and the dizzying fall in tax revenue because so many workers are laid off through no fault of their own.

It would be false and foolish to blame all this on any one ­government or policy. In fact the UK’s four ­nations are quite lucky to have the opportunity to try out different ­action plans and compare the results. In every case the conclusions must be mixed. Only GERS says the same every year.

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Even so, there are certain lessons that stand out, offering hope they will only need to be learned once.

Above all, governments do not have to just stare on in horror as the plague advances, because it has been shown how an early and total lockdown is the best way to limit the contagion in the short and long run (without fully avoiding sudden outbursts).

Comparisons of public events themselves are difficult, but sudden ­cancellations seem to be one of the most efficient anti-contagious ­actions. ­Geographical targetting works ­better than targetting by age or occupation. Voluntary social distancing, ­especially if it affects production, also slows the spread of the virus. Little regarded in the publicity, voluntary sanitary measures are probably more important than most of us think.

As the recovery proceeds, we can expect governments to campaign more vigorously on these unexciting but important points. Gradually a body of folk wisdom might build up which could mean we never again ­suffer a pandemic like this one.

Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? Coronavirus never as bad again? For one thing, the early trends put GERS among the lower ranks of statistical superstition.