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The long-term effects of the pandemic on the West Country economy

  • by JW

Opening up the economy – by ending “virtually all government mandates to control the spread of the coronavirus.”

“Doing away with them has nothing to do with the economy or people’s mental health; it is motivated by ideology.”

Looking to the future, is the UK “stuck in Victorian times when it comes to our attitude to hospitality workers”? Or will there be a new norm for our hospitality industry?


The international media has been following the PM’s press conference:

LONDON — Boris Johnson on Monday announced that Britain was set to soon end virtually all government mandates to control the spread of the coronavirus, telling people that in two weeks it would likely be completely up to them whether to wear a face mask or socially distance.

Britain plans to end legal mandates for masks and social distancing on July 19, Boris Johnson says – The Washington Post

Indeed, the rest of the world is watching:

Britain therefore provides a vital test case for the world in the closely watched battle between vaccines and variants: the first example of a highly vaccinated major nation tackling a spike of this more transmissible new strain of Covid-19, without imposing new restrictions on the population.

The UK thinks it can out-vaccinate the Delta variant. The world isn’t so sure – CNN

The UK “is a testing ground for how vaccines are coping”:

LONDON—As the Delta variant of the coronavirus surges through the U.K., almost half of the country’s recent Covid-19 deaths are of people who have been vaccinated. But doctors and scientists aren’t sounding the alarm about the apparently high proportion of deaths among the vaccinated population. On the contrary, they say the figures so far offer reassurance that vaccines offer substantial protection against the variant.

Some Vaccinated People Are Dying of Covid-19. Here’s Why Scientists Aren’t Surprised. – WSJ


However, there is clearly not a consensus among the same doctors and scientists:

Pivoting to protective measures as the country emerges from restrictive lockdowns is an approach echoed by the British Medical Association (BMA), which is urging the government not to “throw progress away” and maintain some targeted methods to limit the spread of Covid-19 after July 19.

But not all medical professionals are in agreement, with others saying the argument for removing all restrictions was compelling. Paul Hunter, a professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said in the same SMC statement that “there is a general consensus that Covid will never go away” and lifting restrictions over the summer — when schools are out — was the right move.

Boris Johnson sets out plan to scrap England’s lockdown in big Covid-19 gamble – CNN

Several open letters have been going to the Health Minister over the last couple of days:

An open letter to new health secretary, Sajid Javid, as he takes on COVID

Dear Sajid Javid: open letter to a new minister of health | The BMJ

After restriction: why the public can only fulfill its responsibilities if the government fulfills theirs – The BMJ


Much of this is political of course – as noted by the Guardian’s Science Correspondent:

Other measures, however, such as the wearing of masks, are a mere inconvenience for most people, but they do reduce transmission – particularly indoors, when coronavirus cases are high. Doing away with them has nothing to do with the economy or people’s mental health; it is motivated by ideology.

Politics trumps Covid science in Javid’s push to ‘live with the virus’ | Coronavirus | The Guardian

The Telegraph’s Global Health Security Editor says the government approach is very political indeed:

“Changing course in policy making when new or better information is incorporated is an essential feature of good policy making… politicians find it hard…. [but] it can be made easier through a focus on storytelling, on reframing.”

These are the musings of the new Health Secretary, Savid Javid, in a paper he wrote on the pandemic as a Harvard fellow during his recent gap year. It comes under the heading “U-turns or flip-flopping”, and those who read the paper in full will find Mr Javid has become a black-belt in the dark arts of behavioural science or nudge theory…

On Monday evening the Prime Minister briefed the nation on the latest plans for Freedom Day, now scheduled for July 19… Will any of this actually happen on July 19? We shall have to wait and see, but from my reading of the runes there are reasons to be apprehensive.

First, consider the “framing”. The spin coming out of Downing Street over the last 48 hours has focused on anything but the law. In its place is a new emphasis on the faux totem of face-masks (you won’t have to wear them except in the only places you already do) and on “personal responsibility” – something we all abandoned in March 2020, apparently…

Are we heading for another Covid u-turn? There are reasons to be apprehensive


Meanwhile, how are things in the South West?

Not that good – as reported in the international and national press:

Covid cases on the up in holiday hotspots Cornwall, Devon and Brighton, expert warns

UK staycations under threat as Covid cases rise in destinations like Cornwall

The local press is worried about the impact of the virus:

Delta variant coronavirus cases across Devon continue to rise – Devon Live

More Covid school cases are confirmed in area of Exeter – Devon Live

Tourism, the staycation boom, rising Covid concerns and why everyone wants a slice of Cornwall – Cornwall Live

The county council provides a good place to go for data:

Coronavirus dashboard and data in Devon – Coronavirus (COVID-19)


But, clearly it’s the economy, stupid, as councils and businesses try to look forward:

North Devon’s roadmap for recovery post-Covid | North Devon Gazette

Returning Devon County Show a ‘big success’ | ITV News West Country

Although it doesn’t help when local businesses ask a little too much:

Man quoted £71,000 for week’s holiday in Cornwall – Cornwall Live


What about the long-term effect on the local economy?

BBC Spotlight this evening looked at how long-Covid might strike staff and so affect the ability of the hospitality industry to recover – an industry which has already been struggling:

Covid and jobs: Why are hospitality workers leaving the industry? – BBC News

Last month, the head of Hospitality UK warned that the industry is facing huge levels of long-term debt as the economy reopens:

Economy faces ‘long Covid’ if debts not tackled

And a couple of days ago, the industry was warning about the impact of the test and trace system::

St Austell Brewery said: “We are faced with a labour crisis.” The trend for people to go on holiday in Devon and Cornwall had led to growing demand, it said, but “we simply cannot find enough people to meet that demand. This has led to us having to make difficult operational decisions, including reducing our opening hours and food service times. In some cases, where large numbers of our teams have been alerted by the test and trace app, we’ve been forced to close pubs”.

Hospitality industry warns of looming crisis as staff forced to isolate | Hospitality industry | The Guardian

There are mixed signals out today on the issue of staff having to isolate following a positive test:

It will still be a legal requirement to self isolate after testing positive for COVID-19 or when instructed to by the government’s test and trace system. However, the government intends to exempt those who have had two vaccine doses from the need to self isolate if they have been identified as a contact of someone with COVID.

Factbox-England ends lockdown: No facemasks, no distancing, no WFH order

Or maybe things are clear after all, as reported by Devon Live today:

The Government is reportedly considering scrapping the use of NHS Track and Trace app QR codes in bars, restaurants and other venues as part of its July 19 plan for ending Covid-19 coronavirus restrictions in England.

It comes after Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, said pubs were “closing or greatly reducing their opening hours due to staff shortages caused by app pings”, despite staff testing negative for coronavirus using quick-result tests.

Now The Sunday Times has reported that the need to scan a QR code before entering bars, restaurants and other venues, such as museums, will become a thing of the past after July 19 – a change that would mean less chance of punters and staff being told to self-isolate by Test and Trace.

NHS Track and Trace app QR codes to be scrapped, say reports – Devon Live

It seems, though, that the hospitality industry, the mainstay of the South West’s economy, should be able to breathe again as we all go down the pub:

Drinking at the bar is back from July 19 as almost all Covid laws scrapped – Devon Live


However, the economy is changing in the South West.

The traditionally low-wage hospitality industry is having to adjust:

Jamie Rogers is a former semi-finalist in the BBC’s Masterchef: The Professionals, and the founder of an award-winning restaurant called Twenty Seven, located in the south Devon town of Kingsbridge. As it reopened for business after the recent lockdown, a handful of staff handed in their notice. As he told me last week, he then began to explore what was happening in his part of the economy, and was confronted with huge changes: “Jobs that were worth £10 an hour last year are suddenly paying double that.”

A shortage of workers is driving up wages: are we entering a new economic era? | John Harris | The Guardian

And along with that will come an increase in status and respect for those working in the industry, with a very challenging perspective from Devon Live:

Perhaps another result of the pandemic will be a new norm for our hospitality industry. And maybe we need to follow the lead of some European countries who have a totally different perspective to the hospitality industry. Not only are staff paid better but they are treated like professionals.

They don’t take well to rude customers and have more of a “take it or leave it” attitude when it comes to the menu. And while restaurants in some holiday spots open seven-days-a-week, others are unapologetic about closing to give their staff some time off.

But the UK seems to be stuck in Victorian times when it comes to our attitude to hospitality workers…

Is it time to be less Victorian about hospitality? – Clare Ainsworth – Devon Live

Finally, in parallel, there is a growing respect for the small, independent local food producer:

Devon’s farmers are calling on shoppers to continue to ‘buy local’ as the lockdown eases and indoor hospitality reopens. Farm shops and independent food stores played a vital role during the Covid-19 pandemic, easing pressure on larger retailers when the usual supply chains were disrupted. They proved to be adaptable, catering to customer requests and developing delivery and collection systems, and helped shoppers reconnect to local food…

Research carried out during the lockdown by the University of Exeter and the Rural Group of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership found that shortening food supply chains and improving local public procurement could provide a significant economic boost to the recovering economy…

‘Buy local’ say Devon NFU in view of ‘uncertain times’ ahead | South West Farmer