Seismic changes

Change is not made without inconvenience, even from worse to better

This time last year , the new SARS-2 influenza virus, what we have now come to refer to as Covid, had just hit these shores, via some chap who’d been in the Far East. A very, very small number of cases were discovered. Then hordes of families and schoolchildren returned from  half-term skiing in Italy, where this new virus was almost out of control and it spread. Slowly at first, then  more and more quickly.

By the end of February, most of us started to hear more from Professor Chris Whitty, the Chief medical officer, of whose existence most people were unaware. There was a public health information campaign to help slow the virus’s spread, and supermarkets started to run out of cleaning products, loo-roll, flour and pasta.

By March, we had been issued with a stay-at-home order, all non-essential travel was banned and most people were told to work from home. Still no flour and pasta in Tesco. School-children couldn’t believe their luck in not having to get up in the mornings. Joe Wicks saved many parents’ sanity.

By mid-April, when we were all getting thoroughly sick of the sight of our immediate families, we were told that social distancing had “flattened the curve” of the epidemic.  Loo-roll and tinned tomatoes still rationed. By the end of the month, we were told that we had “passed the peak”.

We then had that heady, balmy Summer, where we could go out – but stay apart, see our family – but at  safe distance, and generally try and live life like we used to.

And then….the second wave. And then the third.

The start of this all seems a very, very long time ago. And yet at the same time, it seems like no time has passed at all. We’re still locked down. I still can’t see my Mum or my friends in the pub and my children have given up all pretence at knuckling down to home-schooling (one of them, anyway).

With the furlough scheme coming to an end in six weeks, there are many companies who will have to make some hard decisions. The [pandemic has changed the way we work in this country, probably for ever. Every newspaper has, at some point carried a survey that says  workers want to continue with some working from home in future.

We have had a year of no events and no meetings, apart from video conferencing ones. Even those are starting to lose their appeal. I’m doing more old-fashioned phone calls now, they’re just a bit easier and I don’t need to stick a random background on because the study’s such a mess.

We’ve all had to change the way we do things over the past year. Businesses have got used to the idea that they don’t need to send a sales rep in to a merchant branch every three or four weeks to keep up with what’s going on. Training courses are more and more being delivered online via web-portals and are being pared down so that they take up less time. No more working out if you can spare someone from the trade counter for two hours to learn about a new product when they can do a 15minute tea-break training course.

We are missing out on things though of course. The gossip, the chats, the ‘oh did you hear that so and so has done this’. The grapevine in this industry has always been the best source of information about what’s happening and whilst it’s still there, it’s harder to get at while we’re forced to stay away from each other.

That being said, the vaccination programme is gathering pace. Those of us of a certain age – who haven’t been classed as vulnerable – are inching up the priority list. Covid is probably here to stay in some form or other and we will have to learn to live with it, in the same way that we learn to live with flu and the norovirus every year. It’s been a long, long haul and when we get back to normal, we may be surprised that normal looks quite different.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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