Long way to go

It already feels ages since I lived a normal life, going to work, meeting friends, having a drink at the pub, but it’s only been a few weeks. I reckon there’s probably another couple of months of this, which feels almost inconceivable. The novelty will have worn off well and truly by then, but there’s every chance that the lockdown will go on well past that date. How will it be then?

I expect people will start getting itchy feet. Already there are complaints about the severity of the restrictions. Expect that to become much louder if the current rate of infections improves further.

There’s a tendency to discount how serious things are. Sure, there’re thousands dying in the US and Europe, but it’s slowed to a trickle here. What’s the big deal? We got it beat.

What people fail to realise is that it’s not beaten until there are zero infections, and even then you’d proceed cautiously. And if it’s slowed to a trickle it’s not because it isn’t a big deal, it’s because of the steps we’ve taken to slow it down by social distancing. If not for that, then we might well be in a situation similar to the US and Europe. By our actions we’ve slowed this virus – if we reverse that too soon then all that good work could be undone. This is definitely one of those situations when you want to err on the side of caution.

We don’t know what lies ahead, but if the current trend continues, I would expect some of the restrictions will begin to be lifted towards the end of May. By that, I would think cafes and restaurants might re-open on the basis that social distancing is maintained – say, about 50% capacity. People might begin to be rostered on to work, meeting the same conditions, and so on. I think the important thing is that the borders remained closed to prevent re-infection from abroad. That may well be for many months more. That’s how I see it. The government probably has other ideas.

Speaking of that, there’s been a lot of press about how the airlines are struggling, and Virgin looks on the verge of going under. The government has already provided substantial financial assistance and probably will need to contribute more. If they’re doing that – it’s taxpayers money – then I’m in the school that we should be taking a stake in the business in return. A lot of the hardline conservative blowhards will bluster that its communism, but it seems to me good business sense to nationalise a part of these companies to keep them going. We can’t afford for Qantas to have a monopoly. We all lose from that. And by buying in when the market is low, it’s a handy investment going forward now we’re heading into deficit.

I’m not one for nationalising industries generally, however, I think we went through a crazy phase where many essential services were privatised, much to society’s detriment. All the utilities are privately owned these days, and a lot of agencies and services previously government-run. It’s all in the name of competition, but the philosophy behind that is pure economics, with little relationship to real-world situations. The result is that we, the consumer and taxpayer, have lost out, and the government has lost control over essential services that become critical in times of crisis – like now. And spare me, I certainly don’t believe private enterprise is any more efficient, except at the expense of the consumer.

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