23 July 20
Posted at 12:05
Sanitising station outside Next. face coverings are compulsary in shops in England from 24th July 2020.
It is mid July 2020, forty five thousand plus have died of Covid-19 in the UK but lockdown has now been eased and there is some relaxation around meeting people, going to work and leisure activity, even pubs and restaurants have opened with the required social distancing and Covid safe routines. There are local spikes and lockdowns and of course the virus is still prevalent, there is no vaccine. Many parts of the world have not yet peaked, the US, South America, India and most of Africa for example.
In the UK the current debate is about face masks or coverings. They will be mandatory in shops and public transport from 24th July. Personally I think they are of limited use, they do of course prevent one spreading the virus through sneezing, coughing even shouting (singing in choirs is still banned) but many who wear them do not cover their nose for example (some even wear them under their chins!!). They give a false sense of security making the wearer feel invincible. Wearers also constantly fiddle with them thereby touching their faces with potentially infected hands. For me keeping hands clean and sanitised and avoiding crowded places or contact with strangers are good practices along with keeping as fit and healthy as possible so being equipped to fight the virus if you become infected.
I understand Boris, the PM, is encouraging us all to flock back to city centres and return to ‘normal’ before Christmas. I say ‘understand’ as I have tired of listening in detail to the briefings from politicians. In my opinion there is no returning to ‘normal’, it is gone, and good riddance to it.
Hairdressers have opened but it is a different experience nowadays.
The pandemic and lockdown taught us a lot about ourselves and our priorities, it shone a light on a different perhaps better way of living. I have a theory that far from going back to our manic, somewhat distressing lives of six months ago we should all reset our compass and adjust to a different new norm. It will throw up problems but instead of homing in on the negative we should perhaps look for new opportunities. The old norm rule book should be thrown away. Here is an example of my thinking.
So politicians and some business are up in arms because our city centres are deserted, by comparison. We are all staying at home, or at least travelling less. Businesses that depend on commuters may not survive! The city I know best is London but I guess it is just bigger than other city centres. London has a Pret or a Costa every 100 metres, there are literally thousands of coffee shops and sandwich outlets and yes they no longer have customers. Let’s just forget those business and think of the customers. Millions of commuters used to work in city centres during the lockdown they discovered that they can be just as productive and efficient using technology whilst working from home. Gone was the two hour each way commute, the travel cost, the £15 or more per day spent on coffees, snacks etc. with up to four hours free time life was less stressful, time for exercise, enjoying the countryside, spending more time with family, less cost on child minding, breakfast clubs etc. Life became less stressful for all and less expensive. Employers also noticed expense reductions with no loss in productivity and in future the opportunity to save commercial property costs. Sales staff and their management realised that travel costs around the country and even overseas may not be so necessary. Technology can replace face to face contact to a large degree. There has been a paradigm shift and it benefits both employee’s quality of life and mental well being along with companies bottom line benefits. So why Boris should millions of people now take a step backwards simply to support the Prets and overcrowded, overpriced transport companies?
If commuting to cities was to be significantly reduced some large coffee and food chains would see hundreds of branches close. Is that so bad? No. They have been complaining for ages that they depend on cheap labour provided from EU countries that will disappear when we leave the EU. Well if that is the case so be it, UK unemployment will not suffer as it will not be UK citizens losing their jobs.
Perhaps local independent coffee shops can now thrive on the remaining market, Starbucks will not be missed. All this will result in commercial property prices dropping significantly. This again could be a benefit, how about converting all the empty office buildings and fast food chain outlets into brown field housing that could accommodate people who have to or wish to work in the city and at the same time slow down the current over development in green and open spaces. Transport services could be scaled back as could road usage both contributing to addressing climate change.
I understand economics is far less simplistic than I imply however I think I demonstrate that with some thinking outside of the box and more of a focus on people's health and well being and on addressing climate change we could learn a lot from the pandemic and not simply hanker after a ‘return to normal’.