The power of three

When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning or in rain

Eventually, all the coronavirus hurly-burly will be done and the Covid-19 battle won. Thanks to Pfizer, to Moderna, to the science boffins at Oxford University and AstraZeneca, it looks as though there is some sort of end in sight to the pandemic. The three vaccines are no a miracle cure, no magic gauntlet finger-snap to re-set the world, but they are the beginning of the end. Probably.

To get one Covid-19 vaccine is great news, to get a second, similar vaccine is better news as it proves the first wasn’t just a fluke when a Pfizer technician got lucky in the laboratory. To get three announced, with efficacy rates of between 70 and 95% is a real cause for scientific celebration.

It’s hopefully not too optimistic to say that we might be back to normal, pre-Covid days by the Summer. In theory, on paper, we could be talking about Spring, but I think that, in reality, that is too soon. It will take a long time to get the vaccines out to everyone and there is likely to still be mini-spikes in infections for the next few years. More importantly, it will take a while for us all the feel comfortable and confident about getting together in large groups. NMBS has, quite sensibly, moved its Exhibition from April to September 2021 on the grounds that they would need to start organising it now and that’s not going to happen. Would I feel happy about wandering around the Ricoh with all those crowds of people and stuff to touch and be touched by as soon as April? Probably not, and I’m not usually one of these health-anxiety, germophobes, by any stretch of the imagination. But Covid has turned the laxest of us into the sanitiser-police.

However. Between now and normality we still have a long way to go. Next week England cones out of Lockdown2 and the Prime Minister has promised us that it will not be renewed. There’s a lot of talk about who will be able to meet whom over a five-day period from December 23rd and what the implications are of that slight lifting of restrictions. We’re still waiting for the details about tiers and what each area will be OK to do in the days between lockdown ending and that five-day hiatus. The positive note is that this industry has been able to operate – provided it can do so in a Covid-safe way – all though lockdown 2 and with ‘non-essential retail’ presumably able to open again from December 2, that will include merchants’ showrooms.

My concern is that we will emerge from this with a hospitality industry – events and exhibitions as well as pubs, clubs and restaurants – that is in tatters. How does that affect the UK merchanting sector? On the surface, not much at all, but thousands of people who have lost jobs and businesses in hospitality over the last year are hardly going to be rushing to do up their homes, build extensions and landscape their gardens until they have sufficient funds and secure employment.

The effects of ‘Long Covid’ will not just be physical but economic. But in the meantime, at least we can drink a toast to the future with more than our immediate family. I just need to decide whether, having gone through two lockdowns, I’d rather bubble with my friends or my family.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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