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We’re assuming a gradual easing of the lockdown that begins with the re-opening of shops, starting with garden centres; aims to keep strict social distancing, perhaps with compulsory mask-wearing; and sees schools open later – with no return in the forseeable future to big cultural events such as cinemas, theatres, concerts and sporting events. And with pubs, cafes and restaurants either closed for the duration or operating with social distancing.

  • Older people: What happens when the over-70s, say, are asked to socially isolate, or to shield themselves, indefinitely?  Some argue that this generation is the healthiest in history; others answer that the virus is no respecter of immune systems – however fit the older person.  There have been individual protests to date, but no mass revolt, at least as far as as know.  As Damian Green has intimated on this site, that’s unlikely to last.
  • Young people. Will schools be shut for the spring and summer?  And if not, how will they be expected to handle social distancing – with teachers and staff potentially vulnerable?  Will attendance be staggered?  And if families and close friends are to be allowed to socialise in “bubbles”, what will happen to young people, with their large friendship groups – and to the learning of an entire generation?
  • Workers.  We assume that there will be more home working than before the lockdown was announced, since more people and business will have got used to it.  And that this will be especially so in bigger businesses, which are more likely to observe social distancing strictly.  What will the effect be on output and productivity – especially in any period before the re-opening of schools, or if that re-opening is staggered?
  • Employers.  The buoyancy of the economy is dependent on what Keynes called “animal spirits”.  What happens to these in which the economy is part-closed for the duration – until a vaccine comes; or a reliable antibody test; or herd immunity is reached?  What is the knock-on effect of firms’ willingness to invest, borrow and grow, with all the consequences for lost jobs, tax revenue and livelihoods which that implies?
  • Transport.  There must be some medium-term effect on train journeys – and it is very difficult to see how the recently nationalised system returns to the status quo ante.  How can any operator be expected to make profits earlier anticipated if the numbers using trains fall significantly?  Will there be a compensating rise in car use as people seek to avoid catching the virus?
  • Travel.  If those entering the country are put into quarantine for a fortnight, how serious is the impact on business and how widespread is the effect on travel?  Do the Lake District, Scotland, Wales, the Yorkshire Dales, the Isle of Wight and the coast see a domestic boom…while London, Bicester, Oxford and Cambridge experience a tourism fall-off?
  • Universities.  There will surely be a dip in the number of overseas students, at least – with government more resistant to the institutional presence of China in universities.  What fills the numbers gap – or does the cap last?  Do the Russell Group institutions contract, or recruit from other universities – in which case the contraction question applies to them.  Especially if there’s a real take-off in home learning.
  • High Streets.  The trend to the internet will surely be speeded up by the Coronavirus closure.  That will have a particular impact on towns, so much in the eye of politicians.  The legend is that first the town lost its factory; then its football team, at least in some places (see Bury); and now its high street is going.  How will policy-makers respond?  What are the implications for business rates?
  • Sport. No Wimbledon this year and perhaps no FA Cup Final – with a crowd, anyway.  No Grand Prix, no London marathon, at least in any imaginable form.  What is the effect of all this on lower league football clubs, country cricket sides, amateur sport all over the country?  How will the economics of a televised but crowdless Premier League work if this happens?
  • Culture.  No Proms, we presume, at least in any recognisable form; no crowd for the laying of wreaths on 11/11.  What happens to Friday prayers in mosques, the one time of the week in which they are guaranteed to be packed, or to the Mass in Catholic Churches, currently delivered less often by a network of ageing priests?  How do charities cope if donations carry on falling?  Is the BBC’s position stronger or weaker?
  • The NHS.  Will the trend away from using hospital A & E as a form of GP surgery set in, if no vaccine turns up for the duration?  The Thursday evening ritual applause and children’s rainbow drawings in windows seal the service’s place as Britain’s national religion.  It will be hard for government to refuse pay claims, and even harder for it to contemplate reform – let alone carry it out.
  • Restaurants, pubs, cafes, clubs.  It’s all very well the Government eventually decreeing that these can open again if strict social distancing is observed.  But how does that work?  Is the economics really sustainable for restaurants and pubs if they’re only half-full (or half-empty, if you prefer)?  Will the queue, already a feature of shopping, become a wider phenomenon?
  • Politics.  On this site today, James Frayne will write that post-Coronavirus politics will see a Fairness Audit – as it becomes evident that poorer people and minorities have suffered disproportionately from the virus.  Will post-Brexit Britain be more autarkic – with a stress on shorter supply chains, fewer trips abroad, more taxpayer support for farming and, above all, a more resistant policy to China?
  • The economy.  We’ve already noted that the longer the lockdown goes on, the more and deeper Rishi Sunak will be obliged to intervene.  But what new costs will coming out of the shutdown incur – in terms of support for the unemployed, say?  Will the Chancellor be able to borrow his way out of the worst trouble, at least for the time being – or will the money markets turn on him?  What are the long-term mental health and abuse costs?
  • What sort of people do we think we are?  Questions are inevitable – but forecasting is a mug’s game.  Do the Brits become an even more security-focused people, compliant with state tracking and tracing, open to ideas of compulsory national service, a conformist nation of rule-takers and snitches?  Or is there a libertarian fightback against the shift to statism?

131 comments for: The New Normal will be Very Abnormal Indeed. Here are 15 sets of questions about it.

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