A plague on all our houses

One sickly sheep infects the flock, And poisons all the rest


I feel quite sorry for poor old Rishi Sunak. There he was last week, our newly minted Chancellor of the Exchequer, all scrubbed and shiny at the despatch box like the head boy proudly standing up at his first Speech Day. And didn’t he do well, bless him? He was throwing so much money and largesse out one might have expected him to be from the other side of the House.  “The NHS will get whatever it needs to deal with this Coronavirus challenges” he said, or something like that. Let’s hope he had pre-warning of what was to come this week because since then, the Budget has rather been over-shadowed. (Update: as of yesterday 5pm, the head boy has become the headmaster. he was measured, erudite, sensible and determined. And my Twitter timeline was full of #rishiforPM hashtags.)

I can’t tell you how many times I have started writing this blog, only for events to overtake me. To phrase it in the way my 12 year olds would…OMG. O. M. G.

Just when we think it’s all going to be, if not quite fine, then fine-ish, as long as we all keep our heads and don’t buy more loo roll than one family can reasonably expect to get through in a decade, the goalposts change again.

The world is in lockdown – if that doesn’t end up being 2020’s ‘word of the year’ then those lexicographers at the Oxford English Dictionary don’t know what they’re doing. As a result of that, in particular, the US slamming the doors shut on us, the stock markets round the world dived. Whether it was a plummet into the abyss or the longest bungee jump in history, only time will tell.

As of course, will whether the UK’s policy on not going into complete lock-down is the right way forward or not. Part of me can’t help but think that, if you put everyone and everything into quarantine, you’re just building up trouble later down the line. Would there be a second spike when everyone in Italy, Spain, and China etc. start properly interacting again? Or will the idea of building up a ‘herd immunity’ turn out to be the right one? Who knows?

What we do know, for certain, is that this will have a long lasting possibility devastating effect on many businesses. It breaks my heart to think of all those small businesses that have just about whethered the slings and arrows of Brexit only to find themselves and their customers kyboshed by a combination of confusing government advice and general public daftness.

You do need to buy hand wash liquid or, preferably, soap as it’s better for the environment. There is no need to buy 200 rolls of loo-roll unless you‘re a corner shop. There is no need to spend 200 quid on flour unless you are a bakery. You do not need paracetamol unless you are ill. You do not need to clear Sainsbury’s shelves of pasta unless you’re running an Italian restaurant.

Of course there is the law of unintended consequences to think about too. What happens when people are forced to stay together indoors, making their own entertainment, rather than getting out and about spending money and keeping the economy going? Well, businesses will, as I’ve said, suffer and some will fail. TV subscription services are likely to see a huge spike – shares in Netflix might not be a bad buy right now- and employers might want to check the maternity/paternity leave clauses in their employees’ contracts. Just a thought.




About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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