This is my column in todays Argus – There are a wide range of challenges facing our society at present and some of these seem to be due to concerns that people have regarding matters such as the production and sale or delivery of food to continue. In reality all of these functions are all capable of being retained throughout this period, even if a proportion of the workers involved suffer from C-19 or indeed another illnesses or stress and have to stop work for a period. Inevitably the range of products available from retailers will change slightly but otherwise everything is entirely reliable. Clearly some people feel that if they become ill, they will not be able to purchase food and other goods but the irony is that the delivery services will continue to be reliable providing there are less extreme demands being made by people whose orders are not essential on a daily basis at the moment. In any case this side of the retail sector is growing quite quickly currently and in many local communities, residents are working hard to ensure that their neighbours can get food and other items delivered if they are unwell or vulnerable. It is vital for such arrangements to be applauded and mentioning one community would seem unhelpful but I can vouch for the one where I live that has been active for nearly a week. Inevitably such approaches require some support from the local government and potentially from the retailers to ensure that such factors can be achieved. There is also a need for the retailers to treat people like Police officers, NHS workers and Fire and Rescue Service workers as being people to help out. They work very long days to keep all of us safe and many of them finish at odd times of a day and night and to then arrive in a Supermarket or other setting and see empty shelves is very hard for them.
It is clear that while some industries have sent large proportions of their staff to work where they live, that many other businesses or organisations cannot do this in a meaningful way without their businesses or services coming to an end. The challenge for some people is that they do not live in a setting where work is possible, either because of the work they do, or because of the limitations of the place where they live. The sofa surfing which has been a challenge for many thousands of people across our nation for at least the last two decades is one of the barriers to home working and indeed some properties contain so many residents in the space that there are major challenges for these people all to be at home at the same time. This is also faced by families who are now trying to educate or inspire their children whose loss of school involvement is a major concern and the way in which the school decisions were announced left many children feeling very unhappy and even angry. Add to this the frustration that some of them have expressed by remaining at home and whilst this decision may have solved some challenges faced by the nation, it is possible that the problems that will emerge as a result will be equally serious and cost us a great deal for many years.
The steps that have already been implemented by our Government and indeed ones that will no doubt be announced over the next few days need to be made with a great deal of care. It is much easier to call for Schools to close for a couple of weeks initially than to imply for five months at this stage. It is better to explain the alternatives to qualifications before announcing that they will be scrapped for this year. In calling for ventilators to be manufactured, it would help for the Government to admit it has known about this shortage since 2016 and to apologise rather than to wait for articles to be published pointing out their failure. In asking people to work from home or for their children to study at home, it would be helpful to consider how that will work in various locations. It seems vital that large groups of people do not gather together in settings where some of the people in the space may be unwell and could spread their condition. However telling everyone to avoid work and social gatherings when that could end vital services and prevent some people from remaining in good health is deeply unhelpful. What seems vital is to encourage some of us to work and behave differently, but also to help other people to know how to have lower risk small gatherings so that some groups of people can stay in touch with one another and remain healthy.