Apologies to those of you who thought you'd seen the back of this email for a while. I did say I was pressing the stop / pause button.
It seems there is so much nonsense out there right now, it might be helpful to run through what's going on and the decisions that need to be made. I hope you find this useful. Fear not, it's not going to be a weekly thing. Just when I think it might be something that will give you a bit of clarity through all this.
Peace and love,
We all know roughly what happened. There was a virus in China. It looked quite bad. I think SP did our first update on it in January, After SARS, Swine Flu and Ebola (to name but three), very few thought it would really come to Europe. Certainly not in a meaningful way.
That time is in the news at the moment, because of some COBR meetings. Quite rightly, they met. This virus was serious and a response was needed, even if it wasn't immediately threatening for us. Boris Johnson did not attend those meetings, instead focusing on Brexit and other things he thought more immediately pressing for the country.
Then, inevitably (with a fair wedge of hindsight), it came to Europe. Italy first. I'm not sure when it happened in your head, but it began to feel utterly certain that it was coming to the UK.
We were told to not shake hands. We laughed about it in pubs and restaurants. At the Six Nations. At Cheltenham races. We created new greetings, that mostly involved being just as close to each other. The threat was in the air, but many (most?) didn't make real changes. We're British, right?
It appears that at this stage, the government didn't start ordering PPE.
The screw then began to tighten. We got to the point where people were contracting the virus without having family who had been in hotspots. Football matches were being played behind closed doors. Talk of schools closing. Maybe, impossibly, some kind of staying at home lockdown.
You know the rest. Schools did close. Pubs and restaurants closed. Non-essential shops closed. We were told to try to stay at home. We didn't. We went to Snowdonia, to the beach, to Primrose Hill in London. Reluctantly, because big changes and draconian rules aren't the style of any Conservative Prime Minister, lockdown was announced.
It will be years before the reviews and reports can tell us if we'd actually have saved lives by hitting the Stay At Home button earlier, even a couple of days earlier, maybe when pubs closed. Would lives have been saved if we'd ordered PPE earlier? Would lives have been saved if we'd ordered respirators earlier?
The truth is we don't know right now and this probably isn't the time to fight about it.
This is the time to look forward and see what we can do to get through this, protect lives, return life to as close to normal as possible.
What's done is done. Everyone's lives have changed. A lot of people have contracted the virus. Many have been to hospital. Thousands have died.
The impact so far has been wide and devastating. To our health, mental health and wellbeing, but also to the economy.
What happens next is the big question. How can we get ourselves out and about? Shopping, eating, socialising, learning, building, manufacturing, picnicking, watching sports, and everything else?
It seems clear that life will return to something near normal when we have a vaccine. At that point, we can head out knowing we can't contract or spread the virus. We can smooch strangers, lick lamposts and sneeze on passersby with confidence. That is very, very unlikely to happen until well into 2021.
The Olympic chat right now, for example, is that the games still can't take place in their new 2021 slot unless a vaccine has been found.
The solution is not as simple as everyone being told to Stay Home, Protect The NHS and Save Lives for another 12 months. People wouldn't be able to keep it up. It would become impossible to police. The economy would never recover.
We need to end this state of affairs sooner rather than later. We won't be over this for a lot longer. What to do???
There are so many issues, I won't keep you all day, so let's just look at a couple.
Right now the nation is being home schooled. One of the biggest problems here is inequality. Children in households where the adults care well be fine. They will play, exercise and do learning tasks. Children who aren't in that position won't. They will fall behind. The longer this situation continues, the further behind children whose adults don't care fall. The evidence suggests, if the gap gets too big, they will never catch up.
There is also the issue of getting people back to work. Childern need to be in school for all kinds of work to recommence.
So, when do schools return? Soonish? That would allow non-essential shops, manufacturing and construction to start again. Getting more people back into employment. Making life feel a little more normal.
On June 1st? That would be for Term 6 (or the second half of the summer term for you old fashioned types). That would be a natural place to pick up, and put more distance between the peak and the classrooms being full. It would delay the other things, but maybe that delay would be safer.
September? That's an even safer option. It would be nearly 5 months since the peak. Children would be out of school for the holidays anyway. A fresh start, in new years and new schools. Teachers and students ready to go. Except, That would be half a year of no school. Those vulnerable children would have fallen well behind. Where do you start in the curriculum if some children have been learning at home and some not? What's happened to those parents who hoped to go back to work in May?
Of course, before we get the vaccine, some distancing rules will have to be in place. Clearly, you can't distance in a classroom of 34 children. You could, though, stagger lunchtimes, playtime, even pick up and drop off time, keeping classes as separate as possible. End whole school assemblies (or zoom into each other's classrooms, or something). Far more intelligent people than I will come up with better ideas.
This is a key decision for Boris Johnson when he returns. May, June, September, 2021? There is no right answer here.
Pubs / restaurants
Of all the things, pubs are possibly missed the most. It's such a key part of who we are collectively and individually. Or at least me.
The closure of the hospitality industry is particularly problematic. Many of the workers are on low hour contacts, or even if not on minimum wage or thereabouts. If their place of work is closed, it's a real problem. The people who go to those places, though, suddenly find they have more money in their pocket. They're not going out for a meal, drinks, whatever. They're staying in. It's cheaper. The result is that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. T'was ever thus.
The economy relies on getting these places open. They just can't wait until some point in 2021.
But... how? Not many places can ensure a two-meter gap between tables. Nor could staff deliver prawn cocktails and dry white wine from a two-meter distance.
Again, Boris Johnson has a real problem here. There are two conflicting things:
1) The hospitality industry must reopen
2) The hospitality industry can't reopen
To make matters worse, he can't pop out for a pint with which to mull it over.
This is all so difficult. Long time readers of this email will know not to expect a reasonable solution at the end of this email. I don't have answers. I hope I've given you a slightly clearer picture of the problem.
I can not stress enough how this is not a decision made. It's one of many possible paths that are being considered. I think it's interesting to look at, though.
These are hard times. We don't know what's coming, we don't know where we're going. It's no different for life at SP. Over the past few weeks, some people have been very generous with their support. We're not too far off a place where our future is looking more certain. If you can support us with a few quid a month, it would really mean the world. Thank you.