Pass the pandemic

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.


Remember what we used to say about the aftermath of the Brexit referendum? That, with Parliament unable to agree a proper timetable or negotiate an EU exit deal that kept most people happy, it was the uncertainty that was killing our businesses?

Man, we really didn’t know when we were well-off did we? If we thought things were uncertain last year, before the Boris Johnson won his Conservative landslide, then they are uncertain to the power of 10 now. It’s not just the uncertainty that’s killing business, it’s the virus and the steps we are having to take to either avoid it ourselves or avoid passing it onto other people.

As we have seen, Covid-19 is an equal-opportunities virus. It will strike whomever it pleases, whenever it pleases. We currently have a Prime Minister in intensive care and, regardless of your politics or your personal opinion of the man, that’s something that we really, really don’t need. Fingers crossed the NHS does its stuff and he gets properly better soon.

In the meantime, we have Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab as stand-in. I’m sure he’s perfectly competent but if Rishi Sunak looks like the head boy of a minor public school, Raab looks like the captain of the 1st XV rugby team who’s been made to lead the debating team and fears he might be a little out of his depth but is determined not to show it. I’m assuming, by the way, that it’s a sign of my advancing age that is making all these politicians look like schoolboys to me. At least Boris is older than I am.

So, we have no real idea when this might end and no real idea what state the industry might be in when it does. I cannot begin to express here the enormous debt that the country will owe every single person who works for the NHS or any of the other front-line occupations, and the less visible ones that are simply keeping the country going.

In their own way, merchants and manufacturers, as we know, are doing their best to make a difficult situation bearable. Those that can run a skeleton staff are managing to do so to keep those essential supplies going. If you have four people at home in self-isolation and the hot water goes, as happened to a friend of mine, I’d say that’s pretty damn essential repair work.  The way she described the hoops that she and the plumber had to jump through to ensure that he was able to get in and do the work without actually seeing the family and touching as few surfaces as possible as he did so was quite comical.

Of course, I also have to take my hat off to everyone out there who has stepped up to the plate when it matters. Whether that’s helping with the food bank distributions, volunteering for the NHS, offering manufacturing expertise and facilities to make essential supplies or donating PPE to local hospitals (Bart Murphy and MP Moran have been doing sterling work on that front in north London but I don’t for a  moment suppose they are the only ones), it all counts. It may not be ‘front-line’ stuff, but it helps.

These are strange and worrying times indeed for a great many people, with or without the Chancellor’s largesse. I have lost count of the number of my self-employed friends who might have enough to get through April but for whom May is looking scary. And it doesn’t matter how many local restaurants, pubs and speciality shops are offering delivery services rather than go under, if you can’t afford them because your income has dried up or been hacked by 20% then you’re not going to be much use to them. Being furloughed on 80% of your salary without having to work might sound great on paper, but if you can’t go anywhere or do anything with that extra time, it’s not going to be much fun for long.

Tune in next week for more isolation-generated rambling thoughts, but, for now, stay at home where you can, stay safe, stay well and, those of you in home-school purdah, try and stay sane and sober.


About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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