Lockdown – reflections at the end of week 70

Unless you were one of those queueing to get into a nightclub at midnight last Sunday, the chances are that freedom day arrived not with a bang but a whimper, and not just because you were probably tucked up in bed at the time. Notwithstanding the removal of restrictions, masks are still largely being worn in shops, there remains a wariness in many about going to busy indoor places such as pubs and, as the separate travel classification accorded to France has shown, if you have booked a holiday abroad, taking it may not be a straightforward matter. And then there’s the whole saga of the pingdemic and self-isolation.

In other times, it would seem to be an odd thing that there has been such confusion about the operation of the Covid App and self isolation. Confusion is one word, disarray would be another. This week has seen

  • an announcement that there would be no relaxation of self isolation rules when pinged (unless you were a member of the Cabinet, in which case you seemed to be entitled to admit yourself into an experimental use of lateral flow tests previously seen in the circumstances of Michael Gove and the Champions League final until public outcry led to the discovery that the experimental scheme was no longer available)
  • an announcement that a scheme would be announced setting out exceptions to self-isolating requirements and that the scheme would not require individual businesses to apply for exemption
  • a statement that individual businesses would have to apply for exemption
  • a statement by a minister that self-isolation having been pinged was not compulsory but open to individual judgement
  • an announcement that the minister’s statement was not right and that self-isolation remains very important in stopping the spread of the virus (which is being allowed, for example, unchecked access to nightclubs where the age profile of the customers is likely to mean that they are not yet double jabbed or jabbed at all)
  • an announcement of a scheme several days after freedom day which sets out who won’t have to self isolate post ping and that individual businesses won’t have to apply for exemption (although the scheme is not yet complete with further announcements to follow and has further scope for confusion by its different treatment in different industry sectors of those who are double jabbed and those who are not)

The fact that more people would be pinged as people moved about more and the Covid infection rate was going to be allowed to jump was not hard to foresee. The effects on businesses and, in turn, on the economy of a rapid growth in those having to self isolate were equally not difficult to predict. The lack of planning in this area, especially given that freedom day was delayed for a month, was, unhappily, also not the work of mystics and soothsayers. The infection numbers and their consequences remain hard to comprehend for a population which has spent so long living in fear of the virus. The lack of clarity, reliable information and unified and effective leadership from the government has been striking, if par for the course. So it is pretty much inevitable that the reaction of many has been largely to carry on what they were doing before, work from home, delete the App from their phones and replenish the stocks of lateral flow testing kits.

An interesting week for the government has also been embellished by the return of Brexit and, in particular, the Northern Ireland aspects of it. It is clear that the current position is causing problems to Northern Ireland. We don’t know if those problems were not spotted by the UK negotiating team or whether they did spot them and signed up anyway because of the overriding need to get a Brexit deal. The issue could be tackled on a broader diplomatic basis, but this government, rather like that of Mr Trump, has a tendency to look at these things in transactional terms. For all Lord Frost’s public utterances about it not being unusual to revisit treaties some time after they have been put into place to review how they are working and alter them if necessary, none of us has been particularly made aware of any basis on which the EU might be thinking that the negotiated position on Northern Ireland is not working for them in the short or the longer term. In transactional terms, if there is no immediate benefit to a party to an agreement to renegotiate it, it becomes hard to understand why they will do so. With further shades of Mr Trump, open threats to disregard the UK’s obligations under a properly negotiated international treaty if the EU doesn’t agree to change are being made. That doesn’t look comfortable in a number of contexts, including that we still have a number of important trade deals to tie up

On the other hand, we do have the unrestricted ability to see friends and family, a freedom which we have all come to treasure, and the sunshine to help us to do it, as recommended, outside.

Enjoy your weekend

Ian Waine leads Prettys’ Corporate Services Team and has advised on a large number of corporate recovery and corporate restructuring cases over the last 30 years. He can be contacted at 07979 498817 or iwaine@prettys.co.uk.

Ian Waine
Senior Partner