There appear to be an increasing number of dissenting voices being heard as we go into week six of the lockdown here in the U.K. This is not surprising as the imposed incarceration continues and is likely to do so for some time to come.
It is only normal that, faced with the abrupt stripping away of their social liberties, people will question the reasons why, even in the face of something as apparently deadly as the COVID-19 coronavirus.
And it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that all those contrary thinkers may be proven correct. But in the meantime it seems that many countries are now characteriszd by an all consuming state of catatonic fear.
And in the U.K. this is largely due to a study often quoted at the beginning of the pandemic that said that if we did nothing 500,000 people will die.
That is our collective Sword of Damocles which threatens to overwhelm society, the economy and our well-being. Because right now, who would wish to jump on a plane, train, visit the cinema, restaurant or pub? We have been conditioned to assume that all those normal activities, and many more besides, are now felt to be putting us at risk.
And against this backdrop, there is growing concern at the lack of transparency from the body chiefly advising the government on the strategy to adopt, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage). To the extent that the government’s former chief scientific adviser Sir David King, has convened a rival panel of experts known as Independent Sage, to offer advice on easing the lockdown.
And as business groups are being advised by the government, of the likely measures to be taken to move us gradually out of lockdown, it may already be too late for many businesses in the retail and hospitality sector.
Because despite government aid such as a twelve month business rates holiday, together with grants and loans, much of their cost base still remains in place. And for those such as supermarkets who have remained open, the increased costs of implementing social distancing rules, have in many cases largely negated any uptick in sales and profitability they initially saw during the early days of stockpiling.
But many are not so fortunate. And the reality is that for many outlets it will simply not be commercially viable to reopen with a fraction of the normal customer flow, owing to occupancy regulations and the additional cost of ensuring they follow the social distancing guidelines.
And all this matters. A lot. Because if we destroy our retail and hospitality sectors, we risk destroying our communities.
Even prior to the coronavirus pandemic, we knew that many retailers were in a parlous state and several, such as Debenhams, Laura Ashley, Oasis and Warehouse and Cath Kidston have since gone into administration.
Lifting of the lockdown measures won’t miraculously save other struggling retailers, restaurants and pubs. The fear of a second and even third wave of the virus will ensure that any lifting is very gradual.
But even with any easing, our conditioning has meant that the majority of us will be reluctant to return to anything like normal life.
A survey by Ipsos Mori showed that more than 60% of us would be uncomfortable returning to places such as bars and restaurants, using public transport or going to a large gathering such as a sporting event.
This means that the effects of the virus will be felt, long after the lockdown has become a distant memory.
And while advice to retailers on how to manage reopening and surviving in a post-pandemic world is not in short supply, the real challenge lies elsewhere in convincing us to return to the shops, bars and restaurants. Persuading us that it is safe to do so, will not be the work of a moment.