Bristling Brock speaks out...

 

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Bristling Brock has read endless media reports on what the best strategy should be for the country to follow in combatting COVID-19 spread.   There seems to be a much divided scientific opinion, an equally much divided international opinion and a much divided medical opinion.  That's not entirely surprising given that the world is facing an unprecedented pandemic about which - in truth - we know very little.   There are bound to be a diversity of authoritative views and stratagems for containing and defeating this virus.

The bottom line, however, as anyone in the business world will appreciate, is that 'someone, somewhere' has to make a decision on a course of action - a plan, and usually with a Plan B as insurance.  Someone has to grasp the nettle and make a choice as to what to do.   Given the wide diversity of technical opinion over COVID-19 response this makes that choice all the harder to actually make and then steadfastly implement.   And it is to our governments that we look to review these choices and then make a decision; that is what we elect them to do, that is their constitutional role that is enshrined in law and precedent.   It's an unenviable burden.  What do we (as government) do to protect the citizens of the country whilst at the same time ensuring that we have the ability to rise up again once the crisis passes.   It's truly a Devil and the Deep Blue Sea choice.

The British government is facing widespread criticism for its strategy of lock-down and its tardiness over testing preparations.  Some of the criticism might well be deserved and relevant but we overlook the fact that a choice and a decision had to be made at the outset based upon what was thought to be the right and proper action, what was, at the time, scientifically the best option.   No plan is foolproof and the best plans are flexible, adaptive and able to adopt stratagems using the very latest authoritative data.  In this we might argue that some of the governmental criticism is justified, for their stratagem is rigid and conditioned to some extent by bureaucratic inertia and a lack of preparedness amongst the scientific and medical advisory community to give joined up and coherent advice to government.   Nonetheless, we must have faith in the national advice for if we all start to revert to old ways - and there is some evidence to imagine that a growing number of people are giving up on some elements of social distancing and travel - then we will revert to an environment where there is no social control and an uncertain pathway to recovery.  China could socially control its populations through its draconian measures, we are less inclined toward that level of invasiveness in our softer, more open societal structure which makes it all the more important to voluntarily maintain adherence to the restrictions and limits being put upon us here.

The governments ways are beginning to adapt to circumstance, knowledge and need.   It's frustrating for all of us, but unless we maintain faith in our governance then we will slip into a semi-anarchic state of everyone doing their own thing, a sure slide toward national ruin.   If we can maintain the guidance regime, accelerate the testing programme and get essential workers back to the coal-face then we will start to make progress.  Once that testing is infinitely more widespread and individuals are proven to be risk free then we must get industry back up and running, pushing the economy on - for there is little merit in saving the population only to discover we are in such a ruinous economic state that the suffering merely transfers from a viral threat to a complete social and economic collapse from which it will be very difficult to recover.

With that scenario in mind, just consider the complexity of the decision making the government is battling with.   We may chunner behind their backs, but let's give them the space to make choices and decisions that none of us would wish to be faced with.       

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There is no question that we are all, globally, experiencing a unique social phenomena - that of social restriction, engagement and interaction.   The COVID-19 crisis has rapidly moved across the entire globe requiring our leadership to impose measures designed to inhibit the transmission of the virus and enable our healthcare resources to manage the process of recovery from within their capacities.

Some nations are taking this on-board in different ways.  Much depends upon other factors than just the virus itself - urban population densities, national habits and freedoms and, perhaps most significantly, our ability and desire to mingle closely with other people.  All of these, and more, interact in our attempts to stop the virus transmitting more widely.  The Swedes crop up as an exceptional example in this.   Admittedly, they have a much smaller and more widely distributed population than the UK, but whilst they have social distancing and stay at home measures, they are not mandatory, only advisory.  People still socialise in Stockholm, bars and restaurants are open - there is an air of carefully considered behaviour at work.  In short, the Swedish government trusts its citizens to behave responsibly and take responsible measure to protect the community at an individual level.  Much is said about the discipline and self-control of the Swedes - and this surely is a factor in their national behaviour and response to the viral crisis - and of their superior tech-savvy ability to work from home, remotely but effectively.   There hasn't been a significant impact upon Swedish industry because their workforce is flexible, adaptive and regarded as individually responsible.  So far, this is quite a unique approach in itself.

We cannot draw exact comparisons between Sweden and Britain - we are quite different in a number of ways - but the contrast does seem to raise the question of personal discipline, responsibility and community consideration here in Britain.  We laud our carers, quite rightly, our media pumps out tales of community spirit, equally rightly, yet there remains a strata of the population that have not engaged with the restriction measures the government are now on the verge of enforcing more stringently - and this strata is the dangerous one that can perpetuate viral spread to everyone else's cost.   Look around, you will see those that are ignoring responsible curtailment measures and merely suiting themselves.  It would be wrong to suggest they are anything other than a minority, but they are there, and their behaviour presents risk to the sensible majority.   The very fact that the government are having to consider more penal enforcement is a recognition that our society, our social structures and sense of individual responsibility is not as comprehensively evident at ground level as it might appear elsewhere.  Our history has led us to a position of maximising our freedoms, albeit somewhat skewed by an obsession with political correctness, and our society has come to expect that it can pretty much do what it likes.  Recent decades of cut-backs in policing, military and national infrastructures, eg, nuclear power, electrification, transport, etc, and not least the NHS have all been indicative of a slacker, more laissez-faire approach to Britain's national life.  Until very recently, successive governments have got away with constantly eroding the investments that other nations have continued to make in national infrastructure.  COVID-19 has brought that shortcoming into a stark reality. 

Yet blaming the past is not a solution - it may well highlight the way for a future behaviour model - but in the here and now we have to have our government enforce compliance to the measures deemed necessary.  In this we must trust.  But let us all reflect on how we, as individuals, exercise responsibility and discipline in these unique times - it is the very condition that will get us all through this crisis if we are true to our beliefs in ourselves.   

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The COVID-19 social restrictions imposed this week across the UK are a welcome move for most people.   This invisible, unknown viral entity is sweeping the world with little in the way of humankind able to prevent it.  Physical distancing and reduced mobility seem the only functional strategies at the present.   Needless to say, there is a proportion of the population that totally ignores the advice and recommendations of the government and public health authorities - they seem to think that no rules apply to them.  Unfortunately, it'll be others who suffer from their indulgences.  If Bristling Brock had the power of imposing a 'Hex' upon these miscreants, he would do so; alas, he is not a fully paid up wizard as yet.

Amidst all the media attention to corona virus, perhaps we need to also appreciate the balancing act that the government has to achieve between necessary curtailment of the virus and the continuance of economic activity, social infrastructure normalisation and the provision of substantial resource to support the nation whilst balanced measures are devised and implemented.   This is a gargantuan task - far from easy, almost impossible to make equitable across the social spectrum and, in blunt terms, darned expensive.  With economic activity significantly reduced, the tax take reduces with that and the flexibility to spend becomes more pressured.   We can rob Peter to pay Paul to a certain degree - suspending the overseas aid budget would be worth considering, for example, given that much of this ends up in the bank accounts of despots and tyrants; we can withold any due payments to the EU for a period of time but at some point the available pot of cash will run dry.   If the crisis were to continue for a further six months or more then we would have to borrow significantly in order to support the current social positions.  Not an ideal prospect but one that might need to happen.  The crux is that industry probably can only sustain its shut-down status for a few short months so it is imperative that we manoeuvre the population into strict adherence of the social distancing and isolation measures to curtail the viral spread, hopefully see a significant drop in that spread as a result and gradually start to gear industry back up into some level of meaningful economic activity.  It'll be difficult but absolutely necessary.  

President Trump, of course, reckons it'll all be over and done with by Easter and that injecting squillions of dollars into the economy will sort all the problems out.  It would be nice to believe that that was possible but for world trade to begin its recovery it requires more than just the US to get back on its feet.  Global markets, supply chains and the movement of goods have become the very stuff of 21st Century life and this requires a majority of industrial economies to recover and start trading again.   Easter sounds wonderful but very improbable in terms of beginning that recovery...and unfortunately, social psychology is not one of Trumpy's skills. 

About a week ago, President Bolsonaro of Brazil, belligerent as ever, declared that corona virus was not significant and that Brazil would carry on as normal, eg, desecrating the Amazon rain forest for one thing.   Yet as the viral spread has increased, Brazil finds itself surrounded by nation states that are being obliged to enforce stricter control measures.  Few nations can claim to be entirely self sufficient these days and Brazil is no exception.  The maverick and uninformed actions of Brazil's leadership need to face the realities of this being a global crisis - it won't stop at Brazil's amorphous borders.

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