Lockdown - Reflections at the end of week 26

When sitting down to write this column over the last few weeks, I have asked myself whether it was accurate to head it with the word lockdown. Whilst some communities were undergoing local lockdowns, many of us were operating under restrictions which fell substantially short of what, at the start of all this, was described as a lockdown. Sadly, this week I am in no doubt that the lockdown title is apposite and that it is likely only to become more so over the next few weeks.

Whilst the debate about testing goes on, with many mystified that the lull in the infection rate has not been used to bolster testing capability against the second wave of the infection more effectively, the events of and leading up to this week have told us that the virus has not gone away, that we have not built a widespread herd immunity and that, until there is a safe and effective vaccine or that herd immunity is achieved, the only way to control the spread of the virus is through our individual and collective behaviour.  

Setting aside the more extreme behaviour of some, during the last couple of months, we have seen people doing those things which they longed to get back to because they are important in their lives. They are not extreme or unreasonable things – proper face to face contact with family, seeing friends, going on holiday, simply visiting the shops or having a day out. They have done so, in most cases, in accordance with the restrictions of the day. The ability to do so has been welcome, and, in many cases, important in countering loneliness and isolation. It’s a tough thing in those circumstances to try to get the genie back into the bottle, especially in sections of the community whose own experience of the virus is either very limited or has been of relatively mild symptoms and where the end to the influence of the virus is impossible to predict.

The economy has recovered substantially since the major fall of March and April, although not enough to avoid the significant job losses that we are now experiencing. There will be a great temptation for government not to shut down large sections of the economy again, since it needs the recovery to be sustained in order to stem net job losses and to drive the tax revenues that are needed to pay for the measures already taken. The balancing act is well-nigh impossible and all we can hope for is decisions that are made with mature judgement and for the right reasons, even if they prove not to be the right ones.

For those running businesses, unless you’re in one of the sectors which has been supported by the needs and consequences of the pandemic, long term strategy remains challenging. The unknown factor of the nature, scope and timing of future restrictions means that the best strategy will continue to be flexibility and responsiveness to the needs of the market. Not an easy thing for those who thrive on certainty, but there are opportunities for those who are able to take them.

In other news:

  • a potential large boost for the economy of Cornwall with the suggestion that substantial reserves of lithium have been discovered there. The need for lithium will not diminish given its role in rechargeable batteries;
  • it seems that there are around £50bn of untraced banknotes in the UK - perhaps we should all look down the side of the sofa and in neglected cupboards and pockets of old clothes to provide a boost to the economy; and
  • figures out this morning suggest that clothes sales are down and spend on DIY and crafts is substantially up. Bang in line with the trend, I spent last weekend in old clothes attempting to make cider from garden apples. It doesn’t seem to have gone wrong yet, but watch this space.

Have a good weekend in the Autumn sunshine.

Ian Waine
Senior Partner