Lockdown - Reflections at the end of week 71

I think that it’s just about tenable to retain the Lockdown title because some restrictions remain. I could revisit the question of the pingdemic, but there’s not really much to add to last week’s fulminations on that with some relief since granted, but probably not enough. I could write about the ongoing, if frequently changing, travel restrictions that are still in place. It was interesting to hear yesterday’s confirmation by the Foreign Secretary that the UK’s policy of enhanced restrictions in relation to France has been substantially based on infection levels of the beta strain of Covid in Reunion, a volcanic island just the other side of Madagascar which is an overseas department and region of France. The concern, it seems, is the ease of travel between Reunion and mainland France. Information available on government websites includes Reunion on the amber list, with no suggestion or other guidance as to whether it is treated as part of France in terms of additional travel restrictions into the UK-the inference is that it isn’t. This can only add to the frustration of those whose French holiday plans are in tatters. For those who are looking for threads of logic and consistency in the UK’s travel policies, the position remains as clear as mud. For those wondering why we haven’t seen much of Mr Raab in recent weeks, they perhaps have their answer after yesterday.

The economy has also had an interesting week. Numbers of furloughed workers continue to drop and there has been an upwards revision by the IMF of its forecast of economic growth for the UK for 2021 to 7%. This puts the UK at joint top position with the USA amongst the G7 nations. It is self-evidently good news, although it is counterbalanced by the UK having suffered the largest drop in GDP of the G7 nations in 2020. Inflation has pushed up, but the monetary policy committee has said that it views this as a correction during a brief period in which supply lags demand as the economy comes out of partial hibernation. The impact of ongoing difficulties of the road transport industry caused by driver shortages are likely to diminish the food retailers’ profit margins or have an inflationary effect on food prices or both-watch this space for the time being. And the transition of economic activity away from staying at home and back, to a degree, towards the high street has caused Amazon to lower its growth expectations for the next year, albeit that this has to be set against the spectacular growth which lockdown delivered to such a strong online player.

With apologies to those who are indifferent to them, I’m going on to the Olympic Games. There’s no doubt that these Olympics are not without controversy. Many in Japan are opposed to their taking place at all, although it will be interesting to see whether their fears of the Games increasing the incidence of Covid in Japan will prove to be well founded. They have their critics outside Japan as well, with the criticisms ranging from those who identify them as an unnecessary Covid risk  to those who question the quality of the competition given restrictions on athletes’ ability to train and compete over the last 18 months

It's an interesting thing how the Olympics snare us nevertheless. Away from the blue riband events, we become armchair experts in sports which are far from mass spectator sports, we see high performance, unexpected wins, shock losses, deep joy and despair, the competitive spirit and acts of human compassion in an event whose competitors cover the globe and have an age range from 13 to 66. The enduring power of Shakespeare has often been attributed to his ability to understand and reflect the human condition with its glories and its flaws. The Olympics seem to have the same power, made all the more poignant this time by Simone Biles’s courage and the universally sympathetic response that she received this week. Having barely noticed this year’s (or should it be last year’s) Olympics creeping up before they started, I’m hooked and will be until they close.

The Games and the media coverage of them are providing a welcome break from Covid being the dominant news story. It, of course, has not gone away, and whilst its impact is diminished through vaccination, it still has a human cost which we should neither ignore nor forget. We also need to heed the warnings about the winter which are starting to be trailed by the government’s medical advisers which mean that a re-introduction of some restrictions cannot be discounted. If we’ve learnt one thing during all this, it is to enjoy when we can a number of things which we have previously taken for granted, so, from a personal perspective, I’m grateful that competitors and organisers alike kept alive their desire to make the Games happen and to participate in them in spite of all of the challenges of the era of Covid.

Whether you’re going to be following the Olympics or not, do 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