At the time of writing, the Government’s thoughts on how we emerge from lockdown aren’t clear. The immediate priority remains communicating the importance of lockdown. Any other messaging might be confusing.
It seems reasonable to conclude, however, that any ‘endgame’ will be phased. There will be no instantaneous ‘return to normal’ by Prime Ministerial decree. Either by sector, age, even geography – the release will be eased.
This is worrying for industries dependant on people coming together. To speculate – one much-flouted suggestion, as discussed by my colleague Michael Prescott, is that the last restriction to be lifted could be ‘large’ gatherings of more than 50 people. Specifically, that restriction could only be lifted when a vaccine is in place. A vaccine, we are told, is the only “true” exit strategy from Covid-19.
At the same time, the scientific community tells us a true, mass-applicable vaccine will likely not be ready for 12-18 months. You can see the difficult questions these opinions (they aren’t facts) should raise in boardrooms already creaking under immediate priorities.
Immediately, we can see enormous implications across sport and live events. It seems certain there will be consequences for next season’s sporting fixtures. But if a vaccine takes 18 months, do we face a further postponement of the European Championships, or even the Olympics? Organisers have already said there is no Plan B if they are postponed again. These questions don’t just impact teams and associations, of course, but sponsors, broadcasters and retailers.
What are the consequences for travel, and hospitality? Would a flight, or a train journey, count as a public gathering? Certainly, there are more than 50 people gathered. Will we see restrictions on passenger numbers – and how is that economically viable for an industry already facing incredibly precarious times?
What about adult education? Is a traditional university lecture a public gathering? Remote learning may be here for a lot longer than initially anticipated. What does this mean for a sector already struggling to attract essential international students to the UK?
Technology may provide a way through in some cases. A robust case needs to be made to the Government.
There is a human element also. How many weddings, to take one example, have been postponed to next year? Beyond the impact a second year of cancellations will have on venues, the emotional impact will be significant. It is not impossible that in 2021 a person will be able to marry if they have had the virus, but not if they have been otherwise lucky enough not to have experienced it. Regardless, it seems improbable that elderly relatives will enjoy the day in person.
This all seems depressing, but it is speculation – and the scientific community is rallying to find a vaccine as quickly as feasible. Business leaders in potentially impacted sectors should pay more attention to this race – this regular digest from my healthcare specialist colleagues is a good place to start.