The Opposing View: Adapting to life in the new normal

A s of Monday, “non-essential” shops have been allowed to open. By the time this article is printed, I hope that our fine retail outlets are finding that business is ticking over, and that there haven’t been too many issues with maintaining social distancing, writes Peterborough Labour group leader Shaz Nawaz.
Re-opening of non-essential shops in the City Centre after the lockdown - EMN-200615-115123009Re-opening of non-essential shops in the City Centre after the lockdown - EMN-200615-115123009
Re-opening of non-essential shops in the City Centre after the lockdown - EMN-200615-115123009

However, I think it’s worth re-emphasising: lockdown is not over. The coronavirus has not eased as a threat. In certain parts of the world, like Brazil, the virus is still galloping out of control. America eased lockdown recently, however, there has been a subsequent rise in cases.

There are many people due to their age or pre-existing conditions who will still need to take care and stay at home. Grant Shapps, the Transport Minister, re-emphasised during the briefing on June 12th , that if you can work from home, you should.

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I’ve heard it said that people just want to get back to “normal”. However, until there is a vaccine and / or effective treatments, “normal” is simply not possible. Socially distanced shopping which follows strict traffic lanes is not the “normal” we once knew; it is the new normal that we are facing.

The new normal will require a response from local government; yes, they will need to provide advice and keep an eye on social distancing. However, it’s clear that the coronavirus has accelerated economic changes which were already underway.

The Labour Group and I have long emphasised the need to develop digital start-ups; we believe that online businesses need to become the mainstay of the Peterborough economy. Hitherto, the council has emphasised shopping, retail space. But how wise is that now? For months, traditional stores have been shuttered by necessity. I certainly hope this is not the case, but it is entirely possible that there will be a second wave: again, how wise is it to keep this emphasis? Furthermore, how much have our habits already changed due to the coronavirus?

Having discovered the convenience of online shopping, many may not come back. If so, where are the schemes to help those who work in retail to make a positive transition? Where is the advice for individuals to set up their own firms and market themselves online?

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Furthermore, let’s assume that retail has taken a permanent hit; what will we do with all the spare retail space? Will we turn some of it into housing? Can we turn some into community spaces? There is no clarity on this.

Most reliable estimates suggest that we will not have a vaccine available until early next year. This is going to leave a sizeable cohort of people for whom lockdown will not end anytime soon.

What about them? What services will be available to ensure that they continue to receive assistance? The furlough scheme is one thing, but what about social care? What about ensuring that they maintain human contact which is essential for their well-being?

What is lacking most of all is vision and leadership. Someone needs to state the obvious: the “new normal” is nothing like the old normal. The carefree way which we interacted previously is not coming back anytime soon. We can do business, we can shop, the economy can restart, but it needs to adapt to the rules which ensure public safety.

We in the Labour Group will continue to put forward ideas to address the challenge; we urge the current administration to at least start thinking about it.