How will the high street handle lockdown? What comes next?
Updated: Apr 28, 2020
Any slim hopes of the UK lockdown being imminently lifted were quashed last week, as the government announced a three week extension of the current rules. As the country continues to muddle through Zoom meetings, Joe Wicks exercise classes and Netflix marathons, scientists and politicians are making tentative plans for our return to normality. We've outlined some of the options being discussed below, though it’s unclear what path the country will take and how the high street will look in the future.
One option suggested by Professor Paul Ormerod and Dr Gerard Lyon from University College London was a traffic light system, represented by our graphic here. Michael Gove and Nicola Sturgeon have both denied they are drawing up plans to use the system at the moment, and have quashed rumours of schools reopening on May 11 though.
A look at what supermarkets and essential shops are doing now might provide a better insight into how the high street will weather the changes: limited visitor numbers, security on the door, and initial restrictions on key items. As some larger cafes and restaurants are now allowing takeaway/delivery, and B&Q opens 14 sites on a trial basis; a gradual, and socially distanced, reopening seems feasible. It's possible that governments globally will be forced to manage an ebb and flow of easing lockdown measures to allow the economy to reactivate as best as possible, then locking down to protect the health service's resources.
Looking abroad, some countries are closer to moving out of lockdown – China are allowing some residents of Wuhan to leave, but there are strict quotas in place and test results must be carried by those leaving. In Rome the lockdown remains in place until the 3rd of May, but bookshops and stationers are starting to reopen. It’s unclear when larger business will reopen though. In France schools and shops look set to open their doors on the 11th of May, but cafes, restaurants and cinemas will not reopen until later. The government there aim to have sufficient resources to test anyone who presents Covid 19 symptoms after May the 11th, and are looking to distribute non-medical face masks to the public then - this is of course dependent on international demand for PPE and testing equipment and chemicals. In Germany some shops smaller than 800 sq m were permitted to reopen on Monday morning. Chancellor Merkel though has advised that it would be irresponsible to say when an end date for the lockdown might be, suggesting that using technology for testing and tracing may be a way to wind-down some measures.
In short then, there are no easy answers for how and when the country will return to some kind of normality. It’s important to remember that comparison between how countries are affected by the virus is incredibly difficult to gauge due to the myriad of variables in play: population age and health demographics, medical reporting rules, and different healthcare systems. All we can really do is stay at home wherever possible and await further government and WHO advice. Now’s the perfect time to dig out that old banana bread recipe you never tried!