As we face the third week of lockdown and with infection rates still rising in the UK and around the world, the government is giving no indication yet of what its eventual exit strategy might look like. While none of us can do much for the next couple of weeks other than stick to the rules and keep on working hard to make sure our businesses are in the right shape when we do reopen, I thought it might be worth sharingthe latest, more positive update from Steve Johnston, head of Mila’s dedicated operation in China.
Steve and his team have been grappling with the effects of Coronavirus lockdowns since way back in January, but what he is telling us now is that, once infection rates do start to fall, there will be a way back which will enable us to get almost back to normal.
As of last week, three quarters of China’s workforce have returned to work and, outside of the epicentre of the outbreak in Hubei province, restrictions have now largely been relaxed. Millions of people are continuing to work from home, but residents are allowed out in the streets, albeit they have to have their temperature taken at checkpoints around the cities.
Unsurprisingly, everyone is still wearing facemasks when they are outside, and people are still keeping their distance in public and at work.
However, most shopping malls, restaurants, cafes, bars and offices have reopened for business and public transport is operating normally, with restrictions and checkpoints in place for anyone travelling from city to city. Some local authorities did allow cinemas and theatres to reopen, but these have since been closed again under instruction from the government.
What’s clear from Steve is that lockdowns are being relaxed slowly and methodically – for instance, restaurants reopened initially with shortened hours and with strict limits on the numbers of customers, but they are now open as normal.
Similarly, primary and secondary schools in several provinces have reopened but only with students having their temperatures and symptoms checked regularly. And universities, where students from around the country might be mixing, are still closed, with classes continuing to be taught online.
Ironically, China’s concern now is with cases of COVID-19 coming back into the country, so virtually all foreigners are banned from entering and migrant workers moving around the country or any Chinese nationals returning from overseas are quarantined for 14 days in government centres where they are held and monitored.
We’re being told that the key to controlling the outbreak here is increasing the amount of testing and, just like South Korea and Singapore, China has teams of investigators employed to trace and quarantine close contacts of every newly confirmed case, including those who may be asymptomatic.
The arguments about who is to blame for this pandemic and whether China was too slow to react to the outbreak in the first place will continue for years to come, I’m sure, but what their experience does tell us is that there is a path through it both commercially and economically. I suspect that the speed of that in the UK will come down not just to our ability to ramp up our testing to Chinese levels, but also our willingness to surrender many our cherished privacies and submit ourselves to restrictions on movement, which would have been unimaginable only a few weeks ago.
I doubt there will be any real alternative in the end, and for this industry, which is so desperate to get working again, I suspect it will be price which almost all of us feel is worth paying.