Is it time to ease restrictions?

As I begin week six of my isolation – along with millions of others – I am minded to reflect personally on where we are and, with greater difficulty, where we are heading.

I have a foot firmly planted in two rather different industries – automotive and tourism.

I am mostly but not entirely relaxed about my own lockdown and broadly support the thinking behind it. Other countries are indeed doing things in different ways and I think we are all beginning to see that “no size fits all”. My partner is a New Zealander who has lived here in the UK for fifty years and is rightly impressed with the way her country of birth has gone about things. PM Jacinda Ardern has been decisive, read the mood of the country well and her government’s steps are working well. Most of us are hoping that the USA comes out of it without too heavy a loss of life despite widely differing approaches by State Governors and Donald Trump’s highly individual approach. 

A good example of differing approaches currently is the vexed topic of face masks illustrating so many different solutions all claiming to be science lead and evidence based.

Looking to the future for the UK is more challenging.

I am delighted to see that in automotive a number of vehicle factories are creeping back into action, observing social distancing and testing the strength of their supply chains which have been idle as long as the car factories have been silent. I am rather taken with one of the Ford plants which has introduced with full staff and union approval the wearing of a bespoke wrist band which emits a sound when it comes within a two metre range of another wrist band. Simple and effective. 

We have all learned how finely tuned these supply chains are during the agonising Brexit debate. I am in no doubt the start-up phase will be complex and not without difficulty and surprise. We wait now with baited breath to see if there is an enthusiastic market waiting for the cars which are starting to be built quite apart from the not inconsiderable stockpiles of cars sitting at UK ports.

May 7th is likely to be a key date in the unlocking process and there is I believe a general understanding that it is simply not possible to keep us all locked up indefinitely. I am for instance not hugely enraptured that my own isolation is primarily driven by my age.

I fear, again writing entirely in a personal capacity, that tourism is in for a slow return to so called normality. Before much can be opened, the government will need to be clear that social and safe travel is permitted and be crystal clear what that means. I am hopeful that many tourist organisations able to demonstrate responsible opening with social distancing and all that goes with it, is a feasible way forward and herein lies the key path to a new normality. 

There seems little point the government declaring that, for instance, the west country is now off the hook or that, again just for theoretical example, take-aways are off the hook.

The only criterion must be whether an organisation has the wherewithal and the planning in place to operate safely both for its own staff and its customers. If supermarkets can do it, others in tourism can too. And Local Authorities and Planning Authorities may be called upon to briefly expand their roles and spot check those who claim to be operating safely, are so doing.

It seems self evident that big gatherings are going to be on a hot list for some time yet but equally self evident, professional, responsible and utterly Covid-19 compliant elements of the huge tourism industry must surely be encouraged to un-furlough staff and to quote the PM “fire up the engines of the economy.”

Christopher Macgowan


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