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Are we beginning to re-open anyway?

The PM says he will soon announce the reopening plan after weeks of compulsory lockdown for the UKs public and its businesses. Boris Johnson is under pressure to come up with the blueprint for restarting the economy as the list of suffering firms grows larger and more and more redundancies and bankruptcies come to light each day. The government has a difficult job trying to balance the risk of a second wave of coronavirus infections with avoiding large-scale, permanent damage to the economy.

The new decision on whether or not to extend the lockdown by another three weeks is due to be taken on 7 May, and it is widely believed the restrictions will remain in place. However, the government is clearly keen to reassure the public that some semblance of normality will soon return, by introducing its “comprehensive plan”. Some commentators think that millions will still opt to stay at home, and businesses keep their staff working remotely, because of a now-embedded fear that it isn’t safe to rub shoulders with strangers yet.

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A UK drug maker and Oxford University are pairing up to work on the manufacture and distribution of a new vaccine for coronavirus clinical trials – which have already begun – show their proposed treatment is viable. AstraZeneca, which is based in Cambridge, is one of the world’s major pharmaceutical companies, enjoyed a surging share price which has now made it the UK’s most valuable company.

The proposed vaccine’s trial has recruited 1,100 healthy people for testing at five different centres, and the substance itself has the rather catchy moniker ‘ChAdOx1 nCoV-19’. It’s thought we’ll have some results from the trials by May, and if they are a hit, then the next phase of trials would be by June or July, which is a lot faster than normal for the development of vaccines. There are currently over 80 other candidates for a vaccine being studied, developed and tested around the world. 

It’s worth noting that an article in The Times yesterday reported that South Korean scientists believe they have eliminated the nightmare scenario that humans cannot develop lasting immunity to COVID-19 once they have had it. Initial research early on in the pandemic raised the spectre of a virus against which the body could not develop long-lasting resistance, but it now seems that the tests used were picking up old fragments on the virus still present in the blood as being ‘live’ rather than a sort of viral residue.

DIY and sandwiches are the first to reopen their doors after B&Q, Homebase, and Pret A Manger all announced reopenings by the end of this week. B&Q’s 288 premises are already open to the public as of today, and while it is classed as an essential retailer according to the government’s lockdown guidelines, it had closed the whole estate when the pandemic really began to bite. 

In all examples there are safety measures in place in-store. Pret has installed perspex barriers between baristas and customers to prevent stray sneezes and coughs going in either direction, and in the 20 cafes now open, customers will not be allowed to sit in for their java fix. Similarly, B&Q has gone for the perspex-look, and only card payments will be allowed. To transport that new shower door from the shelf to the car though, teams of two customers will be allowed to heave together.

MPs have been told the decline of the high street will speed up substaintionall thanks to the lockdown restrictions. Melanie, Leech, boss of the British Property Federation, said there would “inevitably…be casualties” and that she expected almost half of all high street shops to disappear over the next two years. She was speaking to the parliamentary committe for business, energy and industrial strategy, and made her remarks in response to a question about how many out of 100 shops would remain after the pandemic subsides.

She said: “Because the high street is changing we will need less physical retail going forward. That would already have looked in a couple of years’ time, before coronavirus, more like possibly 50 or 60 shops and a range of other uses being deployed in the high street. We will see empty premises because not all businesses will make it through. I can’t put a number on that, but that trend was happening anyway and will be vastly accelerated by the impact of coronavirus.”

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