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EXPRESS OPINION: Courage Vs Caution

EXPRESS OPINION: Courage Vs Caution

Wednesday 10 June 2020

EXPRESS OPINION: Courage Vs Caution


In many ways, Jersey feels becalmed.

The schools are ‘half-back’, with only certain year groups attending on certain days. Businesses are ‘half-back', with some shops, cafés and restaurants open, but all with varying degrees of onerous physical distancing rules reducing their trade.

And offices are ‘half-back’, with many smaller and mid-tier firms splitting their teams between office/home, and some of the big companies telling their staff it will be September at the earliest before they can work in town again. All of that drastically reduces the passing trade for St.Helier businesses. 

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Pictured: some town shops are open, but only if each customer can be 'escorted' by a member of staff.

At the end of the week, gyms/spas will probably be ‘half-back’ – open, but you won’t be able to use the changing rooms, pools, steam rooms or saunas, or much of the equipment. 

Looking at case numbers, the latest data seems to suggest that the virus is stubbornly refusing to leave altogether - but probably remains around 50 cases (10 x 5 official ‘active’ cases).

Meanwhile, local companies are simply looking at what to cut next. Re-opening with restricted trade only brings most of the costs, but without the sales to pay for them. That road only leads to one destination.

This virus has been THE defining feature of the local landscape for less than three months - but that has been a period of deep collective shock, confusion and fear.

With so much information around, people don’t know what to believe. In the age of mistrust, the orgy of opinion is winning the battle against science, which simply can’t deploy quickly enough. When the President of the free world tells you to drink dettol (don’t), but then says he’s actually only joking (!), you know this battle is lost.

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Pictured: what does a 'post-corona' world look like...if the virus, or a variation, isn't here to stay?

Our collective reaction to that fear, shock and confusion has made us cautious, timid, obsessive about data, which, just three months ago, would have induced glassy-eyed and drooling boredom – anyone know the latest ‘R’ number? How long can a virus live on a metal surface? What % of alcohol concentration will actually kill it? How many layers need to go into an effective face mask? It’s like the nightmarish pub quiz you never want to be invited to – or at the very least, make sure you are in a team with Ivan Muscat.

The problem is, after weeks of unrelenting negativity, we are all looking down – when to fully recover, we need to be looking up, eyes on the future, planning what sort of island we want to recreate.

That discussion isn’t premature – for each day we delay, our choices narrow. Good businesses close because they don’t have enough cash. Airlines agree deals for their fleets which don’t include us. Necessary staff leave. Customers + investors choose non-local competitors. Confidence ebbs. You can’t cut your way to success.

Timing is everything - and now is the time for our leaders to put forward their ‘big ideas’.

What has been the lesson of lockdown? What should Jersey be(come)? If nothing else, this crisis has given us the opportunity to look forward, cast aside legacy thinking, and decide afresh what sort of island we want to live in. 

We need that vision – the destination dictates the journey, and we need to leave very soon. 

We’ll be publishing some thoughts to help the conversation. Over the coming days you’ll see a variety of views on the pages of this digital newspaper on where Jersey should go next. If you can write between 500 and 1,000 words on how you want to see the island recover from covid-19 in the coming years, then send it to us at editor@bailiwickexpress.com. We’ll pass them all onto the Government, and publish a selection here.

It is a time for creativity and courage just as much as it is for caution.

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