Lockdown – Reflections at the end of week 29

The process of ageing has its subtleties. One of them is its habit of, without warning and with an irresistible force, creating a thought process that leads to you utter phrases which you were determined never to utter. This happened to me this week as I found myself saying that it felt as if the world had gone mad. So is this the cri de coeur of a middle aged man confronted with yet more change, or is there a greater objective justification to it?

At risk of sounding too much like a lawyer - we’re lying low at the moment for fear of being branded incorrigible lefties and enemies of freedom and democracy for assisting people, as is our professional and, if you want to go onto a higher plane, ethical duty to have the benefit of rights granted to them by Parliament - let’s have a look at the evidence:

  1. Reported Covid infections have soared to a level which seems incomprehensible by reference to any previous peak. It’s been hard to follow the numbers, not least because at one point they were corrupted by administrative error, and it remains hard to sift out the extent to which the number of reported cases reflects increased testing.
  2. In spite of an emphasis on testing as a means of controlling the virus and protecting the population, the testing system appears, to put it politely, to be under some strain. Results are slow, there’s been a problem with the supply chain of Roche, one of the government’s principal external contractors on testing, and tracing seems to be incapable of contacting enough people who may have come into contact with those who test positive. This is also the week in which teachers have been advised not to download the NHS Covid App.
  3. Whilst Covid infection rates have soared, no-one seems to have put together a complete picture of why. The rule of 6 has been in place for some time now, so is it being routinely ignored? The North is worse affected than the South, but again, I don’t recall seeing a reasoned explanation of why this is.
  4.  One category of location where Covid rates have leapt is university towns and cities as the virus has spread quickly through student populations. The impact is exacerbated in some cases by an apparent lack of planning for something that seemed inevitable to many of us. As the story has unfolded, it has taken on the appearance of an unstated policy of building a level of herd immunity through the student population rather like the mumps and chickenpox parties of my parents’ youth. It seems unlikely that there is such a policy, but it’s extraordinary that the situation has been allowed to develop in this way.
  5. The government has yet to say anything formally other than that something will be done. There is no stated overall strategy for managing Covid and the government has persisted with its unsatisfactory habit of trailing policy by newspaper leak. It’s small wonder that elected mayors of the North’s cities are livid. They have considerable levels of responsibility for the management of those cities, yet they have limited powers to deal with Covid, have not been consulted with and are learning of decisions which will have an enormous impact on those cities via the press. The impact of the measures that are being trailed will be enormous. I was brought up in and around Liverpool. At that time it was a city of docks, factories and related activities such as insurance. Much of that has gone and Liverpool has reinvented itself from post-industrial abandonment to economic success through leisure and tourism. At least there is some hope in the maelstrom coming through the forthcoming announcement of a limited and directed furlough scheme (again trailed through the press), but the fine oratory of the last election around healing the North/South divide seems long forgotten.
  6. And then there’s Donald Trump. I don’t think I need to elaborate.

So I put it to you that, for a brief period, the world really has gone mad and that in thinking it has, I’m not just another middle aged man whose mind has taken one more step along the way to thinking that his clothes should all be grey and beige and that it’s useful for your cardigan to have pockets to keep the Werther’s Originals in. Instead, like many of you, I’m trying to make sense of it all on a daily basis and ensure that I remain as alert and adaptable as I can in the face of shifting circumstances.

I should have seen it coming. The omens for an odd week were there at the weekend - Manchester United 1 Spurs 6 and Aston Villa 7 Liverpool 2 set the trend. Thank goodness this weekend’s an international break.

Ian Waine
Senior Partner