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Why Covid-19 means it will still be impossible for the economy to return to “normal”

You cannot have “normal” economic activity if millions of workers and customers are required to self-isolate. 

By Stephen Bush

As goes the England cricket team, so goes the country? England’s selectors have been forced to choose a brand new squad to face Pakistan after three players and four members of the coaching staff tested positive for Covid-19.  

The story is a taster of what lies ahead for people across England after 19 July. The Delta variant is spreading freely among the unvaccinated and people with just one dose: and the reality is that many people who work in hospitality, being both under 30 and for the most part not clinically vulnerable, have not even had one dose yet. The Guardian’s analysis of the figures puts the total number of those who will be asked to self-isolate over this summer at 10 million. 

[Hear more on the New Statesman podcast]

Now, the great majority of those people will not have Covid-19: they will simply have come into contact with someone who has had a positive test. And yes, it’s true to say that for the vast majority of people in that group, Covid-19 will not be a life-changing, let alone life-ending, disease – though it will be for some, which is one argument for delaying the last set of unlocking until everyone has been offered two jabs.  

But putting the health argument to one side for a moment: if your ambition is to reopen society in order to return to normal life and normal economic activity, you cannot have “normal” economic activity if businesses are having to operate with reduced numbers of staff, if customers are dropping off the grid at the last moment because they need to self-isolate, and if everything from sporting events to concerts cannot reliably be fulfilled.  

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A summer of “stop-go” isolation inevitably means a “stop-go” economic recovery: and for many hospitality businesses, it may well be too much for them to recover from.  

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[see also: Boris Johnson’s new policy on masks prioritises simplicity over safety]