Winston Churchill once said: “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”
Boris Johnson has none of the wisdom of his hero judging by how he has plunged England back into a full lockdown.
Exactly the same melodrama has played out as it did back in March. Once again, the broad consensus is that the government has acted too late to make any difference.
For instance, this is the FT Editorial Board’s take on the move: Prime Minister Boris Johnson has taken the right decision — though, as in March, it has taken him and his government too long to reach this point.
It’s easy to accuse Johnson of sitting on his hands, but as the FT points out, this is slightly uncharitable.
The Pink Un’s (media speak for the FT) view is that the regional, tiered approach was ‘when conceived, a valid attempt to contain the virus while avoiding imposing tight restrictions on areas with low infection rates.’
But this action- as has been the case with much of the government’s response – was holed below the waterline by delays and poor implementation.
Issues with implementation were certainly true of track and trace, the failure of which is one reason why we have lost grip of the virus, with now only a draconian lockdown once again (just like in March) the only way to buy time to protect the NHS and the systems in place.
And though this lockdown is meant to end on December 2, that is highly unlikely to be the case if the first experience is anything to go by.
While lockdowns can be effective in suppressing the virus for a while, they do not stop the pandemic. And based on the first go, they birth many more issues, from people with cancer not getting treatment to an increase in mental health problems.
And the economic cost is tremendous.
As Oliver Shah points out in his excellent piece in The Sunday Times, 61,000 people have died in the UK with Covid-19. But economists reckon three million will be unemployed by year end thanks to the pandemic’s impact on the economy.
Sadly, business has largely been silent on raising these concerns. It may be time for it to find its voice as things simply cannot continue in the direction they are because continual lockdown(s) threaten to permanently gut how our economy functions.
Think of the economy in our cities and places of work like it is a coral reef. From the small fish to the sharks, all are needed to create a viable ecosystem. Remove parts of it and the whole starts to die. The same is true for our economy. Much of it is driven by ensuring millions of people turn up to specific locations for large swathes of the week, either to serve or to buy in breaks from production.
But if we repeat the first lockdown and all stay at home, then the job losses and business failures that have already been counted will be added to.
What future does the shop floor worker have? Or the Pret barista? Or the security guard standing outside a now largely empty glass-and-steel office block?
What is the purpose of their job if no one is turning up to the world’s business districts to make their employment necessary? Well, there isn’t one.
And like it or not but businesses will ditch these people once the umbilical cord of the furlough scheme is finally cut. And what jobs replace them?
Can anyone think of any other sector of the economy that can pick up the slack in this country? There isn’t one.
Even the argument that people enjoy a better quality of life working from home doesn’t always hold up.
For example, numerous studies are showing that women suffered the most during the first lockdown. One reckons women are more likely to have lost their job and be burdened by childcare thanks to Covid, and that the impact of this could take generations to roll back.
All of our infrastructure, expectations about employment and way of living is tied to a system that demands and depends upon people going into work.
And that complex web is not going to be overhauled anytime soon in a cohesive and sensible way that allows us to enjoy the comforts that have come from economic growth.
Let’s hope this government uses the time it is buying at great cost with this second lockdown to implement sensible measures and systems to control the spread like test and trace.
But business must play its role in being more vocal about why this lockdown must be left as soon as safely possible.
Not only does business have a duty to its shareholders, it has even more of a moral duty to its stakeholders, including employees and contractors who may lose their livelihoods.
And if the morality play does not cut it, hopefully self-interest will spur action. After all, if people don’t have a job they will not be buying much, whether that is a home, trainers, or a new phone contract.
Unlike the 2008 crisis, this is a nightmare on Main Street, not Wall Street. Shelving the third quarter’s dividend will not cut it this time around.