Our social distancing is working, says Sir Patrick Vallance

Yesterday Owl broke this news, having been primed by Owl’s knowledgeable friend that something encouraging was appearing in the data. These are early days, given the lag that is inevitable between taking action to impose social restrictions and seeing the effects, when the incubation period is thought to be between 7 to 14 days.

Owl’s post gave a link to the Public Health England Covid-19 dashboard. Covid-19 confirmed cases across the UK appear to be stabilising at around 2.5k cases a day, the data doesn’t now show daily rates doubling every three or four days. Caveats apply and are listed in the previous post.

These numbers are high (we only test the most serious cases) and the coming days will show whether they start to accelerate again or start to do what we all hope – reduce. Not until then will we have the infection under some form of control.

Francis Elliott, Political Editor | Tom Knowles, Technolog Correspondent | Chris Smyth, Whitehall Editor www.thetimes.co.uk

Britain may be starting gradually to bring the coronavirus outbreak under control because residents are doing a “good job” of social distancing, the government’s chief scientific adviser said yesterday.

Sir Patrick Vallance said that hospital admissions were increasing by a stable amount each day, with the NHS coping as numbers stopped accelerating. He warned that deaths would continue to rise and that it was vital for Britain to stay in lockdown until it was clear that intensive care would not be overwhelmed.

He expressed cautious optimism that “dramatic” reductions in travel and contact could be decreasing the number of new cases and putting the country on course to halt the epidemic.

“The measures are in place. They are making a difference, they are decreasing the contact which is so important to spread the disease and we’re doing a good job at cutting that down,” he told a press conference yesterday. “The stay at home message will be reducing the number of cases of transmission in the community and decreasing the number of cases overall.”

Road traffic is approaching a quarter of its normal volume and the number using buses and trains has fallen even further, according his presentation. Data from Transport for London shows a dramatic fall-off to “just a few per cent” of the total number of commuters using the Tube at the end of February.

As well as transport there were dramatic reductions in footfall on high streets, he said. The closure of pubs and restaurants had helped to reduce contact between people, which was predicted to have “a very significant effect” on the rate of transmission.

More than 9,000 patients are being treated in hospital for coronavirus, a jump of 50 per cent over the weekend, but Sir Patrick said it was “quite important” that numbers did not appear to be accelerating.

They were increasing “pretty much the same amount each day for the past few days”, with about 1,000 new daily admissions. “It is a number that NHS staff are clearly coping with in terms of what they are doing at the moment.”

He said this data demonstrated “that actually this is a bit more stable than it has been. I expect people coming every day to be about that — it may go up a little bit. And in two or three weeks you would expect that to stabilise and to start to go down a bit.”

Yesterday 180 coronavirus deaths were reported, down from 260 on Saturday. Sir Patrick said Britain was “tracking roughly along the same path as France” in terms of deaths and slightly behind Italy, which had almost 2,000 deaths at the same stage of its outbreak.

A total of 1,408 patients have died after testing positive for coronavirus in Britain as of 5pm on Sunday and the total number of cases was 22,141. Before Britain’s lockdown a week ago each infected person was passing the virus on to two or three others, leading to exponential increases. The key aim of social distancing is to get this figure below one, at which point the outbreak would start to peter out.

The government’s scientific advisers previously said that compliance with isolation and distancing rules needed to be 75 per cent to be effective.

Boris Johnson’s decision to impose a stricter lockdown a week ago was justified in part because ministers had been told that the target was being missed. Downing Street has so far resisted presenting the data it used to make that judgment. Officials say that some of the information used is commercially sensitive and is not suitable for inclusion in government-backed data.

Tech firms including Google are set to pass on smartphone data to the government to help them monitor how well people are complying with social-distancing rules. The company is in discussions about supplying anonymised information that shows the extent to which people are still congregating in public areas such as parks.

Google’s Maps app is used by a billion people around the world every month and most people’s phones constantly report their locations and movement back to Google’s servers. The company has yet to hand over any information but had discussed with the government how it would work.

A Google spokeswoman added that the company had been looking at ways to determine the impact of social distancing with its data, “similar to the way we show popular restaurant times and traffic patterns in Google Maps.” It said that any information it supplied would be aggregated and anonymised.

Analysis of smartphone data is one of several measures the government is hoping to use to assess compliance with social distancing rules. BT has also revealed that it is providing anonymous records of mobile data from its users to health officials to help show “generalised patterns in the movement of people to assist with policy planning”.

The mobile phone network provider O2 confirmed last week that it had been in discussions with the government about using its mobile technology to create a model that predicts how the virus might move around the country

Technology to monitor the virus is seen as crucial to helping normal life resume once the lockdown is eased.

A week ago Mr Johnson ordered Britons not to leave their homes except for essential shopping, exercise once a day, medical care and work that could not be done from home.

‘Early signs’ show spread of coronavirus in UK could be slowing, says leading professor

Owl was alerted, yesterday, to encouraging “anomalies” in the infection rate data by Owl’s knowledgeable friend. Today Professor Neil Ferguson,  epidemiologist at Imperial College London, said he believes the “epidemic is just about slowing in the UK right now” as a result of lockdown measures.

Prof Ferguson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “In the UK we can see some early signs in slowing in some indicators, less so in deaths because deaths are lagged by a long time from when measures come in force. This would indeed be excellent news.

 Owl’s knowledgeable friend was looking at the official Covid -19 case, recovered and death data published on this dashboard. The friend, however, cautioned against publishing anything just yet for a number of reasons.

There is now one more data point. On 27 March the daily increase of cases was 2.9k (see below as to why this might be high). Since then the three successive days have had totals of: 2.5k; 2.4k and 2.6k, essentially stable – a pattern not seen before. Not doubling every three days. Caveats apply:

Three or four days ago the baseline for the data was changed so as to align the data from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Now the data is published at 2pm GMT every day. During this realignment some daily rates reported corresponded to a reporting period of much less than 24 hours, followed the next day by a daily rate covering anything up to 36 hours. So there was an artificial low followed by an artificial high in the very recent data

UK testing rates are low, probably confined to only the most serious hospital cases, and are therefore proxy measures for real infection rates . The numbers of Covid-19 confirmed cases reported daily will in some degree relate to how much testing is being conducted. The result is that comparing daily infection rates at a time when testing is supposedly being ramped up, isn’t quite comparing like with like. Ramping up testing is likely to confirm more cases. However, Owl’s friend noticed yesterday a run of falling rates in the past three days. 

Given the assumed incubation period of 7-14 days it might be a bit early to see any change caused by a “lockdown” imposed only a week ago, especially since the metropolitan hot spots took time to comply

Professor Furguson, though, mentions hospital admissions which might be a more stable proxy measure. So cautious optimism.

Lizzy Buchan Political Correspondent @LizzyBuchan www.independent.co.uk 

Early signs show the spread of coronavirus could be slowing down in the UK, one of the top scientists advising the government has said.

As Britons were warned that restrictions could stay in place for six months, Professor Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, said he believe the “epidemic is just about slowing in the UK right now” as a result of lockdown measures.

Prof Ferguson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “In the UK we can see some early signs in slowing in some indicators, less so in deaths because deaths are lagged by a long time from when measures come in force.

“But if we look at the numbers of new hospital admissions per day for instance, that does appear to be slowing down a little bit now.

“It’s not yet plateaued so still the numbers can be increasing each day but the rate of that increase has slowed.”

Prof Ferguson said the epidemic was spreading at different rates in different parts of the country, with up to 5 per cent of the population in London likely to have been infected.

“It is quite clear across the country, the epidemic is in different stages in different parts of the country,” he said.

“In central London it could be as many as 3 per cent to 5 per cent of the population has been infected – maybe more in individual hot spots. In the country as a whole in the UK, maybe 2 per cent or 3 per cent.”

He said antibody tests to determine if people have had the virus, which are currently in final stages of validation, would “hopefully” be available in days……..

 

Mixed messages again, coronavirus crisis: Parking enforcement relaxed in Devon to help residents

DCC says enforcement will be removed from many parking places including coastal and tourist destinations.

Police seem to have other ideas and have declared a major incident.

Police have also been discouraging people from travelling to just these places as being “not in the spirit” of government emergency legislation. Does Cllr Stuart Hughes know what is going on?

 East Devon Reporter  eastdevonnews.co.uk 

On-street parking enforcement rules are being relaxed by Devon County Council (DCC) to help residents self-isolating or working from home during the coronavirus outbreak.

Traffic wardens will also scrap foot patrols in favour of travelling in cars – but motorists have been warned double yellow lines are still no-stopping areas.

The temporary move was announced with immediate effect today (Monday, March 23).

DCC says enforcement will be reduced on certain roads so officers can concentrate on ‘keeping key routes running normally’.

Councillor Stuart Hughes, cabinet member for highway management, said: “We must keep the network moving, but we also recognise the concerns in residential areas where people are needing to park at home more often due to the need for social distancing and home working.

“We’re facing exceptional challenges presented by the coronavirus and we all need to play a role in responding to that.

“Our parking teams are adapting and re-focusing their efforts to help our communities through this challenge.”

DCC says that, as a minimum, its teams will manage parking on:

  • Strategic routes – all A and B roads;
  • The main access route to settlements with a population of 500 or more;
  •  Emergency premises – main access routes to 24-hour emergency services premises, including ambulance stations, full time and retained fire stations, hospitals with 24-hour casualty departments and police stations manned 24-hours;
  • Cottage and community hospitals – main access routes to strategic cottage and community hospitals as notified by Devon Primary Care Trust;
  •  Doctors’ surgeries and other public buildings – main access routes to strategic doctor’s surgeries and other public buildings as notified by Devon Primary Care Trust;
  •  Bus routes – no waiting restrictions on bus routes will be maintained so long as services continue;
  •  Supermarkets and food distribution centres – all parking restrictions of access routes to supermarkets and food distribution centres (including loading bays, limited waiting, and pay and display) will be managed;
  •  Locations identified as needing enforcement to permit refuse collection.

DCC says enforcement will be removed from:

  • Peripheral areas – including coastal and tourist destinations (except where identified as being on a strategic route or location);
  •  Residential areas – including residents’ parking bays (except restrictions in these areas, such as yellow lines and where a residential area is identified as being on a strategic route);
  •  Central commercial areas – including limited waiting and pay and display (except where identified as being on a strategic route or location).

Civil enforcement officers will also be working their beats from vehicles – rather than walking – to aid with social distancing.

 

Devon roads: Planned maintenance shelved but essential repairs continue

Planned maintenance on Devon’s roads has been suspended – but highways teams will continue to carry out essential safety repairs.

Does this include potholes for cyclists – Owl?

East Devon Reporter  eastdevonnews.co.uk 

County council bosses say the temporary measure will allow them to focus on critical infrastructure to maintain the local network for key workers amid the coronavirus crisis.

Highway maintenance workers have been classified by the Government as key to delivering essential services during the ongoing pandemic.

They play a critical role in keeping roads safe for emergency services and other key workers, as well as the delivery of food and supplies.

Councillor Stuart Hughes, Devon County Council (DCC) cabinet member for highway management, said: “We hope that local communities understand that our highways teams are carrying out safety critical work to ensure that NHS staff, care workers, emergency services and essential deliveries can safely get to where they need to go.

“Highways staff are being advised to observe social distancing precautions and I would call on our local communities to do likewise and not approach our maintenance crews.

“They should be applauded for their vital work in keeping our roads safe for everyone during these uncertain times.”

A DCC spokesperson added: “With partial lockdown and social distancing in force across the UK, a number of incidents have been reported recently elsewhere in Britain where members of the public have threatened or intimidated highways crews delivering essential road maintenance, putting themselves and road workers at risk.”

“Devon Highways is asking for understanding from the public while it focuses on safety critical work, such as pothole repairs, drain repairs and clearance, safety inspections, winter gritting and removing unsafe trees.

‘Local communities are being asked not to approach highways workers carrying out repairs and inspections across the county.”

 

Coronavirus forecast to cut UK economic output by 15%

Don’t worry our LEP is on the case – so in Devon will it double to 30%?

Rob Davies  www.theguardian.com 

The coronavirus pandemic could cause UK economic output to plunge by an unprecedented 15% in the second quarter of the year and unemployment to more than double, according to dire forecasts.

The deepest recession since the financial crisis is now all but unavoidable, according to analysts at the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), after businesses shut up shop and consumer spending fell dramatically as a result of lockdown restrictions.

The centre said it expected the economy to have shrunk marginally in the first three months of the year by 0.5%, followed by the steepest economic contraction since comparable records began more than 20 years ago.

The predicted slump would dwarf the 2.2% contraction in the fourth quarter of 2008 as the banking crash took hold, marking by far the worst three-month period since at least 1997.

Japan’s Nomura bank has pencilled in a slightly less precipitous fall for the UK of 13.5%, but also predicted a significant rise in unemployment.

The bank’s analysts forecast that government initiatives designed to persuade employers not to let staff go will not be enough to stop the figure more than doubling from 3.9% to 8% between April to June, before creeping up to 8.5% in the third quarter.

The Department for Work and Pensions said on Wednesday that 477,000 people had applied for universal credit in just nine days, forcing it to redeploy thousands of civil servants to help process the claims.

The CEBR and Nomura predict unprecedented economic pain in the second quarter, but both expect a subsequent rebound, assuming coronavirus restrictions are eased and the government takes economic stimulus measures.

The CEBR said a cut in VAT could help to kickstart consumer spending, and it expects measures to promote investment in business, which would not recover until 2030 otherwise.

That would deliver a “sharp bounceback” in the second half of the year, it said, although 2020 GDP would still be 4% lower than 2019.

House prices will fall 13% in the year to the end of March 2021, the CEBR said.

 

This Is How Experts Think Coronavirus Will Change The World Over The Next 18 Months

Supermarket shelves are stripped bare. Flights are grounded. Workers have been laid off; furloughed; transformed into primary school teachers. A Conservative government has nationalised the railways and is paying people not to work. And this is still only week two. In less than a fortnight, Britain has experienced the kind of social and political upheaval that normally only comes when you guillotine some royals, or storm a winter palace. But is this a brief moment of national solidarity, or a ‘new normal’?

By Chris Stokel-Walker  www.esquire.com 

That all depends on how long the coronavirus crisis lasts. Experts believe a vaccine for Covid-19 (the disease caused by the Sars-CoV-2 virus) is still at least 18 months away, which makes Donald Trump’s promises that the US will “reopen” in three weeks seem optimistic at best. In the UK, the more likely reality was laid out in a report by researchers at Imperial College London, which estimated that elements of the new normal – social distancing, self-isolation, rolling lockdowns – could last until September 2021. So what’s likely to happen as the coronavirus crisis continues?

The reality is, nobody knows. We have never faced something like Covid-19 before and though there are analogues in the way that countries adapt to traumas like war and famine, in the global west at least, this situation is unprecedented in the modern age. Already, the impact of the coronavirus crisis on everything from the economy to social interactions to the environment has been enormous. So we asked the experts what they think’s going to happen as the pandemic bites, then finally abates.

Month One: Infection

One thing is close to certain: things will get worse before they get better. “I think the epidemic will certainly continue for the next three months,” says Dr Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia. He believes that restrictions on movement will only get more severe over the next 30 days. With no one commuting, city centres will be deserted. Building sites will go quiet and shops, bars, restaurants and pubs will remain shuttered.

In their absence, supermarkets and grocery delivery companies will thrive: according to data insights consultant Kantar, which tracks more than 100,000 British shoppers, we made an additional 15 million supermarket visits in the week ending 17 March (the first week of social distancing), compared to the same week in February. The average spend was up, too, climbing 16 per cent. Despite what the pasta wastelands might imply, that’s not just people stockpiling.

“Supermarkets actually account for only about 60 per cent of the food we [normally] consume,” says Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University, London. The rest comes from your Friday fish and chips, your Saturday brunch, and all those al desko Pret lunches (oh, falafel flatbread, how we miss thee). “If 40 per cent [of the food supply] is cut off, and 60 per cent has to deal with 100 per cent, well, you’ve got stress and strains. It’s inevitable.”

“We’re used to waiting lists, but not, ‘Sorry, we’re not going to hospitalise your grandad, take him home and make him comfortable’.”

Though you shouldn’t expect to see shelves overflowing, they will get less barren as people acclimatise and work their way through the cupboards they’ve filled in preparation for self-isolation. But the real problem for most people won’t be what’s available – it will be paying for it. “People in a month or two’s time will struggle to make their rent and pay their grocery delivery bill,” says Lynette Nusbacher, a former government adviser who now acts as a strategist for major companies. The hardest hit will be gig economy workers, who rely on us zipping around in Ubers after a few too many down the pub, especially since they’re technically self-employed contractors and so less protected by the government’s salary support programmes.

April is also when the NHS will hit its first big pinch point. All the indications show we are on track to follow Italy’s path in the spread of disease, where the death toll has already crossed 6,000 (at the time of writing, there have been 355 coronavirus-related deaths in the UK). The UK has 2.8 physicians per 1,000 people – lower than Spain and Italy, which have 4.1 doctors per 1,000 patients. The number of patients who need critical care will increase dramatically and the NHS is likely to be overwhelmed. As is already happening in Spain and Italy, medical staff will be forced to choose who receives the limited resources, with ventilators being removed from the elderly and given to the young. “We’re used to the idea of waiting lists for healthcare,” says Nusbacher. “But the idea you’d be told, ‘Sorry, we’re not going to hospitalise your grandad, take him home and make him comfortable’, is going to hit us at a very visceral level.”

Month Three: Recession

The hope is that, by July, we’ll have hit a first key milestone: after months of day-on-day increases in new coronavirus cases and deaths, rates for both should start to slow. “I suspect until we see that, we won’t be starting to relax any distancing rules,” says Hunter, although he’d be surprised if lockdown hadn’t been lifted at this point. “Hopefully it’ll happen before the end of May, but it might not.”

Whether Trump’s promise to restart the US economy within a month comes to fruition, it seems likely that three months from now, a number of countries will have begun to return to at least some semblance of normality. “It is most likely, according to our experts, that we’re going to see the ability of people to go out and operate economically in July or August,” says Nusbacher. “It could possibly be a little bit sooner.”

Expect the economy to follow what’s happening in hospitals. “It’s going to be grim, but I personally think things will relax as we move into summer,” says Hunter. “I don’t know it for certain, but I suspect the disease will decline quite steeply towards the end of June. In part that will be because of the measures the government have implemented and encouraged, but also in part it’ll be because of the fact that it’s summer and things will be getting a bit easier.” As things warm up we’ll be allowed to spend time in parks again, but expect some forms of social distancing to still be in place to prevent a second spike in infection rates.

“We could see the demolition of the working class”

Distance will be the norm at work, too. “I think business travel will go and it will be only when people need to be there: when you need people working in the oil and gas industry to go out and do some work on the rigs in the Gulf,” says Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at Manchester Business School. Our travel-shyness won’t just be because we’ll see the aviation industry (or whatever form of it survives a three-month shutdown) as a vector for spreading coronavirus around the world. It’s also because, after being ordered to work from home, people will realise how much of what normally happens face-to-face can be replaced by technology.

That’ll feed down to rank-and-file workers in the service economy, too. Two years ago, Cooper undertook a study asking about how and why people do or don’t take advantage of the legal right to ask for flexible working from their employer. They found that while women took the option, men didn’t, for fear that it would adversely affect their career. “There was an inhibition, but now there is no inhibition,” Cooper says. “At the moment you’re being forced to work exclusively from home.”

Back in the bricks-and-mortar world, supermarket stocks will stabilise around fewer lines, as manufacturers prioritise getting what they can onto shelves. Our relationship with food will change, too. “We need to be thinking very carefully about renationalising supply chains, out of resilience preparedness,” says Lang, the food policy expert. “We’ve developed, over 60 years, a culture that says, ‘I can eat what I like, when I like, and it’ll be cheap forever, and I’ll overeat as well.’ That culture has got to change.” Tropical fruits will disappear from shelves and seasonal fruits will become so again, thanks to hold-ups at borders due to decreased freight flights. That means no more strawberries in winter. “Coronavirus is going to take a scythe through the normality of food.”

The return to social normality, however, is likely to spark a new round of infections. “In places where we start the economy too soon and let people go to their jobs and let normalcy return in some fashion, it looks like there’ll be a brisk and deadly outbreak,” says Nusbacher. “Brisk because when people are back into contact, there will be infections, and deadly because the capacity of any health setup to administer intensive care will be overcome.”

This could be the moment the British high street dies, believes Nusbacher. Coronavirus won’t be the underlying cause, but it will usher in the age of on-demand delivery and centralised warehouses sooner than might have happened organically. As Amazon and friends eat up even more market share, the impact on everyone else will be enormous. Nearly three million people are employed in the retail sector and although some of them will end up working as pickers for online deliveries, automation means a large proportion of those jobs will cease to exist. “A lot of people will be left out,” says Nusbacher.

Month Six: Relapse

By September, we’ll start reckoning with the lasting effects of Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s coronavirus budgets. Those who can will return to their workplaces. Those who have been laid off – or who were furloughed from companies that then went bust – will struggle to figure out what comes next. With the US economy currently contracting at the fastest rate since the financial crisis, another six months of coronavirus lockdowns all but guarantee a global recession, as economies reel from unprecedented collapses in both supply and demand. Those jobs that disappeared during the crisis are unlikely to return, which could lead to a spike in unemployment. The answer could be a more generous safety net.

“We are going to be spending half a year socialising people to the idea that, when there is a social necessity, it is not a moral hazard to pay people without expecting work in return,” says Nusbacher. “This is an ethical change.” A universal basic income, which has been trialled in Finland and Canada to mixed results, could demolish the working class. Instead of their value to the economy being calculated by how much they produce, it would be based on their consumption – the way in which they spend the money given to them by the government.

“We’ll see quite a marked increase in the birth rate. When you get bored with the telly, there’s nothing else to do”

For those whose jobs survived, the way they work will change. Offices will shrink and become places to pop into a couple of times a week for a catch-up, rather than somewhere to spend 40 hours sat in front of a computer (you can do that at home, after all). “We’re going to need a new ‘manager’,” says Cooper. “Somebody with very good social skills to manage virtual teams.” The changes in how our economy functions will accelerate that shift, as we rely less on shared resources like printers and speedy internet. “The only thing that stopped people doing it [before coronavirus] was the fear that it gave off the impression you weren’t committed.”

Beneath the veneer of normality, however, the virus will be lurking. As summer fades, we’ll see a resurgence in the number of cases that require careful management. Rolling lockdowns will be enforced in different areas of the UK to reduce demand on NHS critical care beds. In turn, that means we’ll need to create some slack in the health system. “Next Christmas or so, I bet we see quite a marked increase in the birth rate,” says Hunter. “You can only watch so many back episodes of Dad’s Army and Carry On films before you get bored with the telly.”

Especially since there’ll be less new stuff to watch. With cinemas likely to stay shut for the foreseeable, studios will have to decide whether to delay films indefinitely, or make them available for streaming instead and take a bath on the box office numbers. Social distancing and travel bans will shut down production on films and TV shows, too, which will force broadcasters and studios to either dig through their archives or figure out new ways to create content.

Schools will return, and universities too, but with fewer international students as people put their lives on pause, or carefully consider whether they want to be halfway around the world when another outbreak arrives. Just as office workers will question whether they really need to all be in the same room to do their work, so we’ll see secondary schools and universities start to consider whether the emergency methods they’ve put in place over the last few months can become more permanent.

Month Twelve: Resilience

With the novel coronavirus no longer so novel, the way we deal with suspected cases will have changed radically. Though a vaccine is still unlikely at this point, medical staff will have become accustomed to dealing with Covid-19 and its associated complications, so will have a better set of treatment options. “Medicine is a science,” says Hunter. “Everything we do is supposed to be driven by hard evidence, but often there’s a lot of what goes on in medicine that can’t actually be controlled for in trials. It’s the individual doctors and nurses who can spot when things need to be done better, because they’ve seen it 50 times already and they get more tuned into what the signs are that they need to be getting worried.”

The way the government traces the virus’s spread could also change. “You might then decide whether you’re going to put a lot of effort into identifying cases that crop up and isolating them – the sort of thing we were doing in late January and early February 2020,” says Hunter. “But that’s quite a long way down the line.”

“Britain, we have a habit of bouncing back. People so rapidly forget the bad things and move on”

One possible bright spot is that, with industry and travel essentially paused, our carbon emissions will collapse. Researchers have already seen massive drops in the release of nitrogen dioxide, with parts of China showing pollution levels up to 30 per cent lower than normal. In northern Italy, nitrogen dioxide levels have fallen by as much as 40 per cent. Though this alone isn’t enough to stave off the climate crisis, the shift in behaviour precipitated by the coronavirus pandemic is, perhaps, a sign that we can all make huge personal sacrifices when faced with a global, existential threat. That, at least, is a positive sign.

However, everything else will be much less rosy. We’ll likely still be in recession and whole sectors of the economy will be fundamentally reshaped. “We might see professional services organisations finding it difficult to say: ‘Everybody come to work’,” says Nusbacher. “We might see the wreckage of some companies that can’t be profitable, just as business models are put under stress right now.” Europe, in particular, may think twice before restarting its hydrocarbon-based economy, and instead take the chance to think greener.

The coronavirus won’t have caused it, but it will be the rocket fuel for changes that have been long coming. “I’m not saying this one pandemic is going to cause permanent social change,” says Nusbacher. “I’m saying this pandemic could be the factor that pushes this lever. The fulcrum is the longstanding set of changes. There’ll be an attempt to return back to normalcy, but that won’t work. Time has moved on. There was going to be social and economic change anyway, and any attempt to ignore that will run up against economic reality.”

But there will be one bright light at the end of the tunnel – a vaccine.

Month Eighteen: Recovery

As a disease, coronavirus is here to stay. But the vaccine – and a carefully considered delivery – will alleviate its impact. “I suspect what will happen is that when a vaccine becomes available, it will be available to those groups most at risk and initially healthcare workers who haven’t had the infection,” says Hunter.

The rest of us will be strong enough to withstand the virus, or will already have had it. “By the end of 2021, there will be some effective treatment,” says Nusbacher. “By the middle of 2021, a lot of people will have immunity due to exposure and survival. That will make a difference. The pandemic will be over and we’ll be dealing with what happened in the past, rather than what happens now.”.

There could be seismic shifts in the world order. China will be keen to restart its economic growth. Countries that benefited from Chinese medical aid, like Italy, will forge closer ties with Beijing. America will, perhaps, finally reconsider the effectiveness of a market-based healthcare system. And in the UK, in the wake of the Conservative government ripping up a century of dogma to save the economy, we may see significant shifts. Just-in-time delivery infrastructure could become a thing of the past and maximum efficiency in the NHS may be seen as a problem, rather than a goal.

Countries – and people – are resilient. Coronavirus will bring about a revolution in the way that Britain lives and works, but many of the long-term shifts it ushers in would likely have occurred anyway, even if not quite this quickly. The test for our society is how we look after those who lose out once society reorders itself. Whether the sense of shared responsibility for the most vulnerable, which emerged when the pandemic first took hold, continues once it abates. And whether we will sacrifice our own opportunities in order to protect those whose opportunities are being taken away.

The information in this story is accurate as of the publication date. While we are attempting to keep our content as up-to-date as possible, the situation surrounding the coronavirus pandemic continues to develop rapidly, so it’s possible that some information and recommendations may have changed since publishing. For any concerns and latest advice, visit the World Health Organisation. If you’re in the UK, the National Health Service can also provide useful information and support, while US users can contact the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

 

Heroes and Villains – Which companies are coming through during the coronavirus crisis?

The dramatic effect of the coronavirus on the British economy has posed serious challenges for the country’s companies and their employees. Some have been applauded for their actions – making donations to health workers, for instance – while others have quickly fallen foul of politicians, the public and their own workers. Here is a list of those who deserve plaudits and brickbats so far.

Joanna Partridge  www.theguardian.com

Plaudits – retail

Co-op The food retailer is taking on 5,000 extra store workers to cope with increased demand, offering temporary employment to hospitality workers who have lost their jobs. People can apply for jobs directly in their local branch. And the 6,500 pupils at 25 Co-op Academy schools who receive free school meals are being given a £20 weekly voucher while schools remain shut.

Timpson The retail chain, which provides shoe repair, dry cleaning and key-cutting services, says it will keep its 5,500 employees on full pay while its shops remain closed.

Lloyds Pharmacy The chain is hiring 1,500 staff so that it can continue delivering prescriptions and healthcare services. The company has also recruited 406 pharmacy students to bolster its staff.

Plaudits – hospitality

Fullers The pub and hotel chain with over 400 sites has said it will not seek rent payments from its tenanted pubs.

Whitbread The owner of the Premier Inn chain and restaurants including Beefeater and Brewers Fayre is putting some employees on a temporary furlough while its sites remain closed. But it will keep them on full pay by topping up the extra 20% of their wages not covered by the government scheme. Whitbread says it is in discussions with the government about providing rooms in its hotels, located near hospitals, to key workers.

Leon The restaurant chain is keeping certain branches open to NHS employees and other key workers, and providing takeaway and delivery meals to NHS workers with a 50% discount. It is also bringing together other restaurants, food distributors and suppliers to deliver free daily hot meals to NHS critical care staff. FeedNHS – also backed by the Wasabi, Abokado and Franco Manca chains – will deliver 5,600 meals a day to five major hospitals belonging to two London healthcare trusts.

Pret a Manger Before the chain was ordered to close, it was offering free hot drinks and a 50% discount on all other purchases for all NHS workers.

Plaudits – banks

Lloyds The bank has suspended 780 planned job cuts across its bank branches, amid a surge in demand and uncertainty over how many staff may need to self-isolate. An internal letter explained it was “not the right time, either for colleagues or for customers”. Britain’s biggest high street bank said it had granted mortgage holidays to over 70,000 customers in just over a week. The lender also confirmed that it would waive interest on arranged overdrafts up to £300 for all customers across its Lloyds, Halifax and Bank of Scotland branches from 6 April.

HSBC The UK division donated £1m to the National Emergencies Trust Coronavirus Appeal and British Red Cross to help support vulnerable people affected by Covid-19.

Barclays The bank is automatically waiving interest on all overdrafts from 27 March to 30 April. It has also set up an online form for mortgage holiday applications to speed up the process.

Plaudits – other sectors

Unilever The company behind brands including Dove and Knorr is contributing €100m (£89m) globally to fight the pandemic, including €50m (£47m) worth of soap, sanitiser, bleach and food. The London-headquartered firm is adapting manufacturing lines to produce sanitiser for use in institutions such as hospitals. It has also pledged to pay its small- and medium-sized suppliers early to help their cashflow.

Jingye The Chinese company, which recently bought British Steel, sent a private jet filled with medical and protective equipment to the company’s Scunthorpe steelworks. A private jet owned by Jingye landed at Doncaster Sheffield airport containing equipment including face masks, goggles, thermometers and medical gloves, destined for workers at the Scunthorpe blast furnace steelworks and the nearby hospital.

McCarthy & Stone The company, the biggest builder of retirement properties in the UK, has offered government and local authorities more than 300 newly completed apartments in unoccupied developments to house older people recovering from Covid-19 or NHS key workers.

Brompton Bicycles The folding bicycle maker is providing 200 bikes to hire, free of charge, to NHS key workers.

NCP The parking company extended its offer of free parking to NHS workers to all key workers.

British Land The business, which owns shopping centres including Sheffield’s Meadowhall, has said it will scrap rent for three months for small and medium-sized companies renting its space, and will allow larger tenants to spread their second-quarter rents payments over an 18 month window.

Brickbats – retail

Frasers Group Mike Ashley’s business, which owns the Sports Direct chain, gave in to government pressure and closed all their shops after previously informing staff that branches should remain open, as selling sporting and fitness equipment was “extremely important”.

Following the government shutdown, Sports Direct increased the prices of some products by as much as 50%. Ashley admitted that his business had been struggling to enforce the government’s Covid-19 restrictions for thousands of workers at its Derbyshire warehouse, which continues to operate to fulfil online orders. The Unite union had written to the group about concerned employees at the Shirebrook site, who had reportedly been told they would be immediately fired for self-isolating.

Ashley issued a public apology for the firm’s behaviour and said the company had since sought to make amends by offering its entire fleet of lorries to help deliver medical equipment and supplies for the NHS.

B&M The discount retailer remains open as it stocks food and grocery items, as well as pet food. Staff have complained on social media about having to work without protective equipment, including in stores where groceries only account for one aisle. An “advice update” to workers informed them that the company “presumed all our colleagues are key workers” and that they would be paid for any time spent self-isolating, provided they qualified for statutory sick pay. Those who don’t qualify or who had “exhausted their statutory sick pay entitlement” were told they would be contacted by their payroll adviser.

Brickbats – hospitality

JD Wetherspoon The pub chain’s boss, Tim Martin, came in for widespread criticism after he said he wanted to keep all 867 locations open until the government-ordered shutdown of all hostelries. The backlash against JD Wetherspoon grew when it said it could not commit to paying its 43,000 employees beyond 24 March, before it had processed details of the government furlough scheme, as it didn’t have the financial resources to do so.

It later changed tack and said it had created its own reimbursement scheme so that it could pay its workers on 3 April, provided the government backed its interpretation of the measures. The firm says it is retaining all staff and has advised those who want to apply to work for supermarkets during the current period that they will be given priority for jobs at Wetherspoons when pubs reopen. The chain has also told its suppliers that they cannot expect payment until after the pubs reopen, even for items that have already been delivered.

Travelodge Hundreds of residents in its hotels, including homeless families housed there by local councils, were turned out on to the street after the budget hotel chain closed its premises. The firm gave letters to all residents asking them to leave as soon as possible, apparently in defiance of government guidance, which said that hotels looking after homeless families in temporary accommodation should not close.

Britannia The hotel chain blamed an administrative error for sacking staff and leaving some without accommodation after it closed one of its properties in Scotland. It had terminated the employment of workers at the Coylumbridge hotel in Aviemore and asked them to leave their accommodation immediately.

Carluccio’s The Unite union has accused Carluccio’s of “wage theft” after the Italian restaurant chain was closed due to the government-ordered shutdown. It claims workers have been informed they will only be paid 50% of their wages for the month of March, despite having worked until the chain’s outlets closed on 20 March. The union believes the company’s actions are a breach of employment law.

Brickbats – travel

EasyJet The carrier’s pilots and cabin crew have been asked to take three months’ unpaid leave and accept a pay freeze. The airline came in for widespread criticism after it proceeded with a £174m dividend payout to shareholders, £60m of which was paid to easyJet’s founder, Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou.

Ryanair The low-cost airline has been accused of ripping off passengers after it was found to be charging £80 more to those rebooking cancelled flights, even though it had offered fee-free changes. The Dublin-based company has waived its change fees, but passengers still have to pay the difference if the new fare is higher. According to consumer group Which?, the airline has increased the cost of those replacement flights by as much as £80. Pay for all staff, including executives, has been cut by 50% for April and May, but the airline’s boss Michael O’Leary has not ruled out redundancies.

Brickbats – other sectors

Regus Small firms who rent office space from Regus, one of the largest providers of serviced offices, complain that they are still being charged rent even though they are not able to use their offices. The firm said it had seen an “enormous growth in support needed” in the weeks before the shutdown at the companies who rent space from them “with mail handling, internet services, and technology services that allow them to work efficiently”.

Cineworld Former and current employees of the UK’s largest cinema operator by market share have protested about their treatment by their employers. There was widespread outrage over the company’s decision to terminate the employment “with immediate effect” of staff working at both Cineworld and its “boutique” arm, Picturehouse. Cineworld Action Group posted an open letter to the chain’s CEO Greidinger after the UK government’s decision to pay 80% of employees’ wages, but says Cineworld is yet to change tack and reinstate the employees it has made redundant.

Capita Employees at several call centres run by the outsourcing firm got in touch with the Guardian to raise concerns that the company was not taking their safety seriously. One member of staff at a call centre in Runcorn operated by Capita said people were still taking calls for the mobile operator O2 involving retention of customers threatening to quit, complaining of a “filthy” building, dirty toilets and empty hand sanitiser stations. They said they were concerned about catching the virus and giving it to family members with underlying health conditions and were too scared to speak out, as they could be fired.

Capita said it had increased cleaning at sites, staff were working from home where possible, and it had no policy of sacking employees who complain on social media: “The top priority of Capita at this very difficult time is the wellbeing of our people.”