Few people could have imagined, though we probably should’ve, how far this would go. It began with a few news stories emerging from the epicentre, progressed gradually to where we endlessly tracked the first few European cases. And finally, to now, where we can barely keep track of new cases, people have stopped reading the news, and supermarket shelves are barren. The economic effect is something to write home about, too. Just recently, the Bank of England cut interest rates to 0.1%; it will also buy £200bn UK financial assets in an attempt to stabilise markets. Both developments were historic.
To this end, on March 17th, the UK Chancellor announced a £330bn plan, consisting of grants and loans, to support these businesses as they go through the summer. He further assured the public that there would be special help for the hospitality sector, including aid to airlines and airports. ‘The coronavirus pandemic is a public health emergency,’ he said, ‘but it is also an economic emergency. We have never, in peacetime, faced an economic fight like this one.’ The PM echoed this sentiment: ‘We must act like any wartime government and do whatever it takes to support our economy.’
For many of us, the term ‘wartime’ comes from history books and stays there, having lived a lifetime in the west, mostly undisturbed. For an entire generation, 2008 is a distant, fearful memory we hoped would not repeat to the same extent; and yet, here we are. The economy is suffering from many different angles – shops, restaurants, and most other high-street retailers, which benefit from foot traffic, will be affected severely as social distancing measures come into place. Small suppliers will be told demand will pause for a few months. Airlines and airports will feel a gut punch from lockdown around the world, as will other transport greats. This plan, though, which follows a proposed £12bn in aid which many other government officials called insufficient, gives us cause to be optimistic.
‘But we are well prepared,’ Rishi Sunak said. ‘We will get through this.’ ‘This enemy can be deadly,’ the PM continued, ‘but it is also beatable.’ It’s phrasing we hear again when the Chancellor doesn’t limit the plan to the funding already proposed, but rather suggests it will increase depending on need – he assures the government will do ‘whatever it takes.’ The speech, and the overall attitude following new developments, is perhaps reminiscent of Mario Draghi’s – then President of the European Central Bank – speech in 2012 on saving the Euro: ‘[…] the ECB is ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the euro. And believe me, it will be enough.’ It’s this confidence that businesses themselves must take on in this metaphorical wartime, to lead with it no matter what comes in the next few months.
At the time of writing, WHO is about to hold a press conference without an audience on various governments’ response to the pandemic and official advice. The situation seems to be changing faster than we can report on it; but the sentiment emerging from all the recent press is useful to take on board – whatever it takes.
More people than ever are working from home and making a real effort to stay in unless absolutely necessary, businesses have moved their entire operations remotely, and there is now a sizeable plan to aid struggling firms through the crisis peak. Charitable foundations are working harder than ever, especially for children who will be out of school for a while, and people are coming together in profound appreciation for front-line staff. All these things enable us to do the best we can, rather than hang on for dear life for the summer months.
This is the way we get through, though that might not be as concrete a situation as we envision it – doing whatever it takes for our neighbours, friends, acquaintances, and business partners, so that the foundations of the lives and companies we’ve built throughout the years are still here post-wartime. We’ll come out of quarantine, whenever it’s safe, to rebuild, breathing cleaner air than ever before.
by Marina Hercka