I’m writing this in the shadow of the latest update from Italy: Nearly 800 dead in 24 hours, close to 5,000 dead in a month, and new measures to further lockdown Lombardy.
Coronavirus is materially changing our world. In the UK, we’re at the base of a terrifying, extreme curve that, if we follow the fate of other globally interdependent European states, would see deaths double in a matter of days. Restaurants, bars, theatres, cinemas, pubs and clubs are closed. Events and festivals have been cancelled. Sports are on hold.
This week, we’ve been listening to our clients and partners, helping where we could and trying to appreciate the monumentality of the now and the fluctuating forecasts for tomorrow.
Our business is fundamentally affected by the change in circumstance. We’re embedded in consumer-facing operators on the frontline – restaurants, hotels & event companies. Clients have and will pause projects while their attention shifts to short-term survival. Our team are divided by location and connected in ways they need not have been before. As founders, we’re piloting through the uncharted, forced to funnel decisions through a narrow window of time and opportunity.
More than ever, our business is change.
And change isn’t converting to predictability anytime soon.
Over the coming days & weeks, we’ll be writing about how the world has and will continue to react to the coronavirus. Today, we’re focusing on shared responsibility.
Assume you have the virus
Few events unite humanity. To do so, they need to force a shared, cultural shift, embedded in young & old, near & far by the threat of wholesale, uncertain change and an existential threat. World Wars 1 & 2, the attacks & aftermath of September 11th 2001 – such events are uncommon and unmistakable; ‘viral’ if you will. They’re also prone to misinformation and propaganda, just like the novel coronavirus.
The UK government have pledged billions now and trillions in effect by supporting payroll, delaying VAT & self-assessment income tax payments, offering zero-interest loans for 12 months and increasing universal credit, housing benefits and working tax scheme credits.
But, for all the cries of relief and support at the groundbreaking and wholly necessary intervention, the authorities have struggled to convey the potency of the virus. It spreads rapidly, presents asymptomatically in many cases and kills at a rate unseen in other respiratory syndromes. Some have heeded the warning to stay home; many haven’t.
The failure to date stems from an inability to connect ‘feature & benefit’. Or, in this case, danger & outcome, in a manner that conveys urgency & agency. ‘Not’ doing something – self-isolating and social distancing – isn’t the same as doing something and, with an invisible enemy, there’s little to rally behind. It’s helping, but not enough.
The malignant nature of coronavirus affects older citizens more than younger and, predictably, those less at risk have continued to circulate with no evident reason to fear for their own wellbeing.
However, sustained socialising ensures the disease endures, spreading all the while, with disastrous, cumulative effects.
Closing centres of social gathering helps, but those gatherings will continue.
There are a finite number of beds, ventilators, doctors and nurses; even if we can manufacture the first two at pace, the second pair cannot be. And, the more strain on the system, the more prone it will be to fail, causing errors that will cost lives and delaying testing & treatment to determine who needs help or to help them in time.
Italian doctors are choosing who lives & dies at bedside as I type.
By transferring the virus to others and perpetuating the dire consequences, we put other lives in danger – those without Covid-19 but suffering an ailment or injury that needs a professional’s immediate attention.
In simple terms, you might not die from the disease but, should you or a loved one suffer a heart attack, stroke or accident, or be due to give birth, then help may be administered in a parking lot or not at all, downgrading their odds of survival.
As of 21st March 2020, 72,818 people have been tested for coronavirus in the UK, with 5,018 proving positive. Extrapolate that ratio across the national population and about 4.5m people could be carrying, or have carried, the disease. That’s not a fair representation now (it’s London-centric today and more people tested will have presented the virus in some manner to date), but it highlights the scope of the menace, however undefined that may be — people should be told to act as if they were carriers now.
We live in a democratic state where civil liberties are safeguarded. Now, to save as many lives as possible, our freedoms need binding temporarily, reinforced with the instruction of what could happen imminently, not what has already occurred.
In a move that would have seemed unthinkable a few, short weeks ago, we’ve entered a period of ‘big government’ and fiscal enforcement. But the administration of social distancing falls short of it, to our shared detriment.