There’s a lot to be said about how the UK has handled the response to the pandemic. However, one thing we can celebrate this week is reaching the first major milestone in the vaccination programme. The country has met its target of vaccinating 15m people covering the top four most vulnerable groups. As we look towards the PM’s roadmap out of lockdown next week, this is our first major step towards living life again with some kind of normality.

A moment of hope

There has rarely been good news for the last year. The pandemic has upended everything. But on this journey through the crisis, there have been major moments of hope where we have taken a step forwards towards returning to normal. The approval of vaccinations has been one. The learning of positive trial data was another. The news this week that the UK hit the 15m target on time, vaccinating the four most vulnerable groups is perhaps the most major milestone yet.

The initial data coming out of Israel, one of the few countries ahead of us is showing that the vaccination programme is having a significant effect on the number of people falling ill and requiring hospitalisation. This is fantastic news and proof that the efforts are paying dividends.

Here in the UK, case rates are falling way back, as are hospitalizations. Sadly, the lag in infections and hospitalizations means we’re still seeing far too many people pass away from the disease. This will take more time to fall due to the lag effect.

Still, we set a lofty goal, and thanks to the epic efforts of the NHS and volunteers up and down the country, we achieved that goal bang on time. Now, the health secretary Matt Hancock has set a new goal of reaching 32m vaccinated by the end of April. At the current daily average of people being vaccinated, should it stay that way, we should reach that goal sometime near the end of March so long as we continue to get a good supply from manufacturers. This also takes into account those starting to receive their second doses. Sky has done an excellent breakdown of the progress of the vaccination programme here, and forecasting of when we could hit the next target by.

The second phase of the programme will see 32m people have at least one dose of the vaccine. After two weeks, one dose can provide close to 70% protection. This is what is giving the Government hope about allowing the economy to begin to reopen and the public start to dream about seeing family and friends again. If we get to that goal well in advance, that would be a huge bonus for the country.

This has been a long lockdown. It’s been a tough winter weather-wise, with a Christmas very much not what we’re used to. Dark mornings and cold temperatures have made it feel like a continuation of 2020 rather than the start of a new year. But, if we can keep on track, and with hopefully no more curveballs thrown at us, perhaps we can start to think about BBQs in the garden with friends, trips to the coast, even a cold pint in a pub!

With the measures being brought in on foreign travel I wouldn’t count on being able to freely move around the world this year. Remember that whilst we’re doing a good job here, there are plenty of other places around the world way behind us. Our close neighbours in Europe are nowhere near close to the progress we have been able to make. So staycations might be the option to go for this year.

Post-COVID fenestration

We’re not quite there yet, but we can start to think about how our industry will begin to look and operate once we’re at a point where enough of society is protected against the disease.

I think for most of the year we’re going to need to continue to wear masks. Whilst 32m might well have had their first shot by May, it doesn’t mean everyone is fully protected, and there is another 30m+ left to vaccinate after that, albeit the less vulnerable groups. Caution will win the day and we’re likely to be asked to mask up for the time being when out in public or in venues such as showrooms, offices, bars and restaurants. I do then wonder, as we’ll have been wearing masks for nearly two years come the end of this year, will this be a change that is adopted permanently by society as it has been in other countries around the world?

The Government has already hinted that large gatherings of hundreds of people or more is not likely to happen this year at all. We have already seen events in our sector and others announce they are going virtual once again or delaying to 2022. The festival season looks off as Glastonbury has announced it is cancelled until 2022. So small gatherings perhaps. Maybe 30ish people, maybe a bit more. But unless the Government start to change the mood music it doesn’t seem feasible to anything much larger than that.

From an installation perspective, keep the hand sanitiser by your side. That is going nowhere fast. Tough hygiene regimes are going to likely be with us for a long time. We may never go back to what we were used to. Regular hand washing, hand gel stations, cleaning packs, all things installation teams have become used to. Indeed something most businesses of any kind have become used to. Is it a bad thing? Probably not. Better hygiene isn’t something we should be resistant to. So I would expect to see hand gel stations in showrooms, bars, cafes and all other types of establishments in the future.

Showrooms are likely to be allowed to reopen in the Spring if you look at what the Government is hinting at announcing. My guess is it could be in March or April. Regulations are likely to be required in terms of social distancing and capacity, so installation companies with showrooms are going to want to encourage people to book times to regulate those coming in and out to keep that organised.

2021 is likely to be the year we leave the crisis that is the pandemic, but 2022 is likely to be the first genuine post-COVID year for our sector and society. So, stick with it. The weather is getting warmer, the days are getting longer, there is still good business to be done and the first hints at some relaxations of rules could be on their way.

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