Published: 00:00, 22 February 2021
| Updated: 07:27, 22 February 2021
As we prepare to emerge from lockdown, the prospect of life post-Covid brings much uncertainty.
But, writes leading Canterbury business forecaster Professor Richard Scase, there is a lot to be cheerful about...
Are we, hopefully, through the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic? Has the rollout of vaccines and serial lockdowns brought us light at the end of the tunnel?
Last June we all thought the worst was over. The government encouraged us go out and to eat, drink and be merry.
Probably the first time a government has subsidised us to eat beef burgers, pizzas and other fattening fast food.
Probably surprising since obesity seems to have been a major factor in serious cases of Covid-19 and the UK having the highest rate of obesity in Europe.
Our optimism was then undermined in the early autumn when large numbers of students travelled across the country to universities, holiday-makers returned from abroad and employees were encouraged to return to their offices.
The inevitable second wave, more severe than the first, put us back to square one. But no one could predict the emergence of a ‘Kent variant’ that has put our hospitals at breaking point with exhausted and stressed-out staff.
Even so, unlike last June, there are reasons to be cheerful. The vaccine rollout is a great success with targets met - 15 million by mid-February.
Rates of infection are in major decline with death rates on a significant downturn. People are respecting the regulations for social distancing and wearing masks and the police are taking a tougher line on offenders.
There will always be rule-breakers in society but they make up, at most, 15-20% of the adult population. An interviewee on a recent TV news programme neatly summed up this attitude when he said, “rules are made to be broken, aren’t they?”
This psychology is more prominent in Australia. That is why the government there acted swiftly with draconian measures to control the spread of the virus.
In the United States a similar rule-breaking attitude with relaxed government policies generated a major spread of the virus. Even so, the death rate is lower as a percentage of the population compared to the UK.
The first lockdown in the UK was implemented too late and restrictions lifted too soon.
A major reason for this was the government’s wish to save the large hospitality sector with its entrepreneurs, small businesses and millions of employees.
It hoped to balance economic and health welfare and probably created the worst of both worlds. A dilemma that confronted all governments in Europe.
But today, one year after the pandemic started to take hold, there are reasons to be cheerful. Both for the kind of society in which we live, as well as for the quality of our personal lives.
'But today, one year after the pandemic started to take hold, there are reasons to be cheerful...'
A major legacy of the pandemic will be for governments to address and implement policies to solve a number of long-term social problems.
Greater priority will be given to mental health and the general happiness of the population.
The last 12 months has highlighted the widespread extent of depression, loneliness and anxiety among both younger and older people.
We can envisage increased funding for the mental health of young people. Too often this has been neglected in social policy.
It has been assumed they are a happy sector of society, optimistic for their futures, without cares in the world.
Sadly, this is the opinion of policy-makers who are middle-aged baby boomers, projecting from their own past experiences.
Today’s young people are full of anxieties and stressed about their futures in relation to zero contract jobs, personal debts and how and where they are going to live.
They see their futures riddled with uncertainties and insecurities. These problems have been highlighted during the pandemic, forcing social and welfare policies to address these issues.
The past 12 months has also brought to the forefront the scandal of how we care and treat older men and women.
Some of the poorest countries in the world do a better job in caring for the old. At last politicians recognise the need for major reforms.
'The past 12 months has also brought to the forefront the scandal of how we care and treat older men and women....'
Particularly in a society with an increasing ageing population. The need is now recognised to integrate the care services with the NHS to provide a holistic and universal service.
If nothing else the pandemic has highlighted the need for a properly-funded NHS. A service that cannot operate on a shoestring as there will be global viruses in the future.
It will be a new world. It has reminded us essential workers are, indeed, essential and should be respected and rewarded accordingly.
To give frontline nursing staff and carers in old peoples’ homes the incomes that would allow them to buy their own homes instead of living on minimum wages in insecure privately-rented accommodation.
That would be a good reason to be cheerful.
Politicians now recognise large social and economic inequalities affect people’s health conditions. The poor are more likely to fall ill, to have poor diets, to be obese and to be prone to respiratory illnesses such as Covid-19.
Governments will give greater attention to public health measures that will make us more resilient to the impact of future pandemics. These are sure to come in an inter-connected world as Bill Gates foretold in 2017.
So why do tackling these issues give reasons to be cheerful? As a society, pre-pandemic, we had given low priority to addressing the prevalence of mental illness among young people, the under-value of older people and the scale of poverty in one of the world’s richest countries.
In our personal lives there is much to look forward to. As the vaccines roll out and lockdowns (we hope) are relaxed, we can re-kindle our personal relationships, catch up with friends, and meet again as groups in bars and restaurants.
We can start (maybe) to think about booking holidays at home and abroad, and going to sporting events, the cinema and the theatre. Social life can resume but not as we once knew it.
Crowded pubs and congested public spaces will forever be a thing of the past because of the spread of future viruses.
The pandemic has allowed us to break with traditions that have dictated how we live. As we spend more time working from home, we can avoid the daily commute.
Only to be greeted at the end of the journey by bosses who want to monitor and assess our every move, nine-to-five, five days a week.
We gain control working from our living room tables on our laptops. But soon there will be online management controls that will invade this new-found personal autonomy.
The past year has given us the opportunity to drop ‘friends’ we have wanted to avoid for years.
It has allowed us to give up the unhygienic habit of shaking hands, to be replaced by elbow knocking.
Our ideas of personal space have become redefined so that forever, hopefully, there will be less excuse for people to cough and breathe down our necks as we stand in supermarket queues and elsewhere.
I assume that’s what people mean when they say they are looking forward to the ‘new normal’!
At last Kent has become a global brand, although for the wrong reason. The ‘Kent variant’ has become the dominant and most contagious virus in the world. Which is probably one reason NOT to be cheerful!