Tuesday 24 August 2021

Have the pandemic and the lockdowns really gone away?

 So where are we as a nation following the lifting of the vast majority of covid restrictions? In the last month or so, I've been to Wembley Stadium, Tottenham Stadium and the Albert Hall. We've had several meals in London and I've met up with friends a few times in town for drinks. The one remaining area where there are a degree of restrictions and barriers is Foreign travel. A nephew of mine flew to Mexico for a long holiday, only to have to return more or less straight away, as it went onto the Red List. Many friends who love foreign holidays are simply not bothering.

The pandemic has had definite winners and losers. Anyone with a regular job, for a large, stable company, has continued earning money, had no travel costs, spent virtually nothing on lunches, drinks with friends, going out etc, for almost 18 months. Many are awash with cash. In Mill Hill, it seems every other house has scaffolding up and is having major renevations. The story is far less amenable for those who work for themselves, are in service or hospitality or music. The music industry in London has had it's heart ripped out. What we are now seeing is a major bounce back. The following are a few comments off a music industry chat group I belong to (these are not my comments)  "We're currently experiencing our busiest ever month." "The word on the street is that the industry has reached capacity in terms of resource and infrastructure. Studios are full. PA Hire companies have empty warehouses.", " The current consensus is that spring is going to be possibly the busiest ever time in live music in this country." This is all great news, because if the live music sector is bouyant, the London economy sector is bouyant. 

However, there is a huge elephant in the room. No one really knows if we are done with lockdowns and restrictions. Last summer we saw the virus retreat, only for it to roar back. The UK is seeing rates of infections edging up, but due to the vaccinations, we are not seeing hospitals overrun. The are two key issues. The first is, how long does the vaccine based immunity last and the second is what effect will the return of cold, dark nights, winter colds and flu and new variants have on all of this. None of us know. The NHS seemed to have a crisis every winter and with perhaps an additional 6-7,000 beds required for covid patients (assuming things stay where they are), is the NHS able to cope?

My guess is that if no vaccine resistant strains appear in the UK, we should be in an OK place to ride it through. The government is planning a booster jab for the most clinically vulnerable. We are not where we were a year ago, when Rishi Sunak launched the dangerous 'Eat out to Help Out' scheme. We actually have a proven, working vaccine. This does not provide 100% immunity and it does not stop every death. Nothing will. What it does, is mean that the danger posed by covid is massive;y reduced to the general population. With new treatments coming on line all of the time, we are getting to an ever better place.

But.... Would I bet my house on Boris not ruining Xmas again with another 'circuit breaker lockdown'? No I wouldn't. A new set of lockdowns would spell disaster for many areas of the economy that are just about starting to recover. Venues, promoters, crew and artists are just about getting to the point where they feel comfortable leaving the back up jobs they've taken. If real, well paid work has returned, then I'd be confident that any music business that has survived this far will be OK. If we are it by more restrictions, it would be a crushing blow to confidence. I am not quite sure that anyone will gamble quickly a third time on the industry recovering quickly. We must always balance the needs of society as a whole. It would be morally wrong to put anyone at undue risk. If we return to a point where the daily deaths are in the thousands and rising steeply, we would be faced with no alternative. I wouldn't envy Boris Johnson if those statistics started to appear, but we are clearly not there right now. 

The question we are all too afraid to ask is "Have the pandemic and the lockdowns really gone away?". None of us know. I've come to the conclusion that looking too long at social media will do nothing for good mental health and well being. There are people who genuinely believe we should still be in lockdown and those who believe we should never have been. Then there is every shade in the middle. It seems to me that British Government followed a long standing tradition when faced with a crisis. We completely balls it up at the start, but get our act together eventually and do just about OK. The likes of Dominic Cummings at Barnard Castle and Matt Hancock in his broom cupboard with the secretary are likely to be the abiding memories. The clapping for carers, the long nights for the scientists and researchers, the covid relief food parcels and all of the good things get sneered at, ignored or forgotten as the dust settles. It strikes me that this is how humans deal with bad things. We only really remember the trivial, unless we are totally traumatised. 

To summarise. My view is that you'd have to be very brave to bet against some sort of return to restrictions, but they are not inevitable. If we are reasonably sensible, wear masks on crowded public transport, meet outside if we can, wash our hands etc, we are less likely to see a a return, so why would you not do that? If we were all just a bit more careful than we had been before the pandemic, that would not really be much of a burden and it may be the difference between a good Xmas and a very miserable one. I lost two beloved family members, several friends and a few long standing customers. Whilst I am naturally a risk taker, I would not put others at risk, which is why I'll wear a mask for the foreseeable in crowded public places. 

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