If anyone had not realised already the gravity of what is going on in the world right now, let me make it crystal clear: there is no going back to normal. What we used to consider as normal no longer exists, and will not exist once we move on from this phase.

In yesterday’s daily briefing from the Government, the Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty gave the most explicit indication yet that we are going to have to live with various forms of the current social distancing and other measures for quite a long time. Consider that a vaccine is a good 12-18 months away, that gives you some kind of idea of how our daily lives are going to be altered by this crisis.

This is not going to be over in weeks or months, this is a crisis that will take years, and the economic recovery will take longer than that.

Daily life changed forever

Before too long our industry might be able to go back to work, whether its May 11th or the beginning of June. Hopefully, our industry doesn’t become too triumphant about it. This certainly isn’t the time for any of that right now. But that will not mark the start of a return to normal life, be it at work or outside it.

Its feasible our pubs will be closed until the end of the year. Restaurants might be allowed to reopen, but with strict new rules on capacity and distance between tables and staff. I have read examples of what might happen to restaurants and trust me, it doesn’t look all that appealing. The Government has already hinted that large gatherings and crowds won’t be permitted for the rest of this year. That means no gigs, festivals, street parties, carnivals, sport with crowds, even fenestration sector events. International travel is going to be massively disrupted, so your holiday plans for a year or two are probably going to need to be put on ice.

Schools are looking at when they might be able to go back. June 1st is being touted as a possible date, but its not certain, and for some kids, they would only be going back for a couple of weeks before they finish for the year again. When schools do go back, whenever that might be, it will be a whole new experience. How can social distancing be upheld in a place like a school? Imagine the raft of public hygiene measures that are going to have to be introduced. School life for kids will not be the same as it was.

Going to the local shop or supermarket, waiting in lines to get in. Taking your kids swimming. Getting on the train. Car sharing. Van sharing. Getting on a plane. Taking deliveries. Ordering food. Will we ever shake hands again? Every aspect of life is going to be changed, and in the short term, much of it will be negative. PPE will be the new most valuable commodity. Hand sanitizer will be everywhere. Hand cream sales will skyrocket because of the hand sanitizer turning skin into sandpaper. Masks will be worn much more in public, even if the Government don’t endorse using them. More will wear gloves in public. More of us will work from home.

Negative because it won’t be what we are used to. Negative because the effects will directly alter the freedoms we have been used to. For the first couple of years, we’re not going to like it. But we’re humans, ever adaptable, always evolving. Over time we will get used to whatever the new normal looks like and learn to not only live with it but thrive with it.

Its already clear that it’s going to be a much more digital world as if it wasn’t already. What this crisis is going to do is force us to enact changes to our businesses and our lives in a short space of time, instead of letting it naturally occur over a number of years, even a decade or so.

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Nothing to compare it to

It’s tempting when going through a national or international crisis, to try and link it back to some historical events. It’s a way to try and rationalise and process the sheer amount of change happening at light speed. But quite frankly, nothing in the last 100 years can be compared to what is happening now. The last pandemic of this scale was the Spanish Flu in 1918/1919.

This is our life-defining event. Just like the world wars were for those who were living through them. They were the life-defining moments for them, as this is for us. This will be taught in schools. Movies will be made. Life changed permanently. Parents are going to have to explain to their young kids when they’re older about the time something really bad happened around the world which affected everyone and a lot of people died.

I’m going to focus more on the state of the domestic and global economy in another post, as there is a lot of detail to go through. But it’s not overselling it to say that we’re facing the Second Great Depression. You only need to look at the numbers around the world and here to see what is happening.

In the US, over 26m people have lost their jobs in the space of five weeks. That is more than the total number of jobs created since the financial crisis. More than ten years worth of jobs wiped up in just over a month. PMI data across the board is at historic lows here in the UK and other countries around the world. Oil is now worth nothing. 2m are expected to lose their jobs in the UK in the coming weeks, even with the furlough scheme, according to the OBR. Some say that’s optimistic. UK households are set to lose £43bn in available cash to spend in Q2 of this year. GDP in this country could be down as much as 35% in Q2. House prices are set to plunge by at least 13%.

The premise of the V-shape recovery no longer exists. Its a U-shape at best, L-shape at worst. Maybe the Nike tick recovery curve is the most likely outcome. Historic damage done in weeks, perhaps taking an entire decade to recover from.

The damage done will change not only daily life, but other things too. Politics will change. It will have to. There will be hyper-focus on areas such as the NHS and social care, wages, infrastructure investment, education, science and debt. At this point, any public sector can almost demand more money right now and the Government will have to give it to them as they have done such a heroic job during this crisis, on top of their day to day heroics, else risk the wrath of the British public.

How we get paid will be different. With the amount of money being paid out to support the measures being taken, and with little prospect of another round of austerity, expect to hear more about things like universal basic income. The new economy will simply not work like it used to, so how we get paid will need to change too.

Public health will be at the very core of every aspect. Any new direction for industry or the economy will have at its heart public health. Questions and reports will be done on how it might affect it. We may all be forced to work different hours and shifts to limit human interaction where possible. Digital services will take over in areas that don’t necessarily need human interaction to function.

It’s natural for people to look for an endgame to all of this. In truth, the doorway out of this crisis is with a vaccine. Get one, immunise everyone, then perhaps at that point we can start to introduce new freedoms back into our lives. That, however, is at least 12-18 months away, and in that time it’s likely that much of what we do will be changed forever.

This is your new normal. If you’re in business, prepare for it. Because we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of the problems and changes we’re going to have to overcome.

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