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#Peste 5: After the Lockdown

People are thinking about the beginning of the end. In his very good weekly newsletter Alex Hern was speculating about the travel industry in the immediate aftermath of Covid:

But it won’t kill wanderlust. If anything, at least in the short term, I can’t see how it does anything but strengthen it. Perhaps it’s a nightmare scenario for epidemiologists, but when lockdowns lift, I could see it being like uncorking a bottle: people will flood out of their homes to go elsewhere, anywhere.But it won’t kill wanderlust. If anything, at least in the short term, I can’t see how it does anything but strengthen it. Perhaps it’s a nightmare scenario for epidemiologists, but when lockdowns lift, I could see it being like uncorking a bottle: people will flood out of their homes to go elsewhere, anywhere.

https://alexhern.substack.com/p/its-thursday?r=3iau3&utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=email&utm_source=copy

What will the end of lockdown look like? Will it be like the uncorking of a bottle? People flooding into the pubs on the first day back? Hugging each other in the street?

It’s hard to imagine. It’s clear that ‘post-lockdown’ is going to be an extremely extended transitional period. In a long and useful thread from a press conference by French PM Edouard Philippe and Health Minister Oliver Veran on what ‘easing’ the lockdown looks like:

Masks obligatory on public transport, bars and restaurants to remain closed. Schools to re-open as soon as possible, but gradually, in least affected regions first. Travel to and from France? Unreasonable to go back to normal at this stage.

In their now twice-weekly podcast, Stephen Bush and his excellent team of political commentators at the New Statesman took something of a sweep on when they thought the lockdown would end. In different ways Patrick Maguire and Ailbhe Rea questioned what the definition of that would be. For Ailbhe it was ‘being able to sit in a cafe observing social distancing’ and her suggestion was September. Stephen thought it would last out the year.

Certainly I am not expecting to go back to work in an office in any meaningful way before September. I would be surprised if it was then.

It’s very hard to imagine pubs or public sporting events happening until next year.

In his article analysing Rishi Sunak’s ‘risky’ aversion to taking on more government responsibility for debt (for ‘risky’ read ‘wrong’ imo), Bush wrote the following:

at the moment, we don’t know for certain what the government’s fiscal response will be after the UK exits lockdown, we don’t know when, how or if we will properly exit lockdown, we don’t know how people will behave if we do exit lockdown

https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/economy/2020/04/rishi-sunak-bets-economy-and-his-career-strength-his-loans

All that’s right of course. But even there, what does ‘properly exit lockdown’ look like?

Prior to a vaccine or social immunity we will, as the French Health Minister said, have to ‘learn to live with the virus.’ In a world where social distancing is maintained, restaurants being told the lockdown is over, support is ended, will fail, because they won’t be able to generate the same revenue, or process the same number of people, as they could prior to Covid, and that’s assuming people have the same willingness to socialise. It is almost impossible to imagine, almost on a physical, visceral level, the crushes of public transport in rush hour returning at any time, let alone soon, with all the implications for that network lower volumes implies. Workspaces may require injections of capital investment to maintain Covid-safe working environments. Sure interest rates are low and capex can be amortised, but that’s a hell of a decision in the all-but-certain context of a global recession, and at a time when many businesses will be wondering what a post-Covid business model looks like (obvious examples – jettisoning as much floor space as possible, increased reliance on digital platforms for commerce and B2B transactions of all sorts).

People are thinking about the beginning of the end. The ugly and insidiously deniable vectors of communication around the Tory party (incessant Telegraph pieces about the need to end the lockdown, Toby Young’s self-styling as a ‘Covid dissident’, taking his cue as usual from US libertarianism, the Twitter psy-ops of fake NHS accounts) are pushing it hard. They fear the pressure on Tory party ideology a paradigm shift in substantial government debt financing would imply. Much of the Tory party’s response – including Sunak’s equivocal support of bank lending – is expressive of a group of politicians backed into the response of a social democracy, but fearing to finance that reponse ‘too much’. They certainly fear that financing lasting too long, and will I think happily see risks taken with public health to avoid that proposition. Starmer wants to see a plan, though it would be nice if he could hold the government’s disastrous and chaotic response to account as well, as 500 people a day are dying, and people on the front line of fighting the virus are still inadequately protected and supported.

In a Twitter typo, BBC journalist Lewis Goodall, referred to Rngland. This seemed to me a good name for post-lockdown England. It brought to mind a ‘living-with-pandemic’ world (maybe not this pandemic, maybe another), where country’s R-rating is put alongside the weather forecast:

“England’s R-rating is currently 1.2 and most leisure activities are currently curtailed. Wales and Scotland however are currently at a relatively mild R-rating of 0.3 and most tourist and visitor activities are open.”

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