It’s perhaps easy to forget what ‘normal’ looks like. We’ve become so used to newsreaders, pundits and politicians talking of ‘unprecedented’ events that we’re in danger of becoming accustomed to tumultuous times. But, despite a gloomy start to 2021 and another lockdown in the UK, there is light at the end of the tunnel thanks to the arrival of vaccines. While the rollout of this will be the biggest challenge for the first quarter of the year at least, there’s every hope that the remainder of 2021 can then be freer and more ‘normal’.
Since news broke of the vaccine, there have been signs that the markets believe this can be the case. As IG has demonstrated, the sectors that benefitted most from the news in early November were those that had suffered most since the pandemic began – suggesting confidence of a return to pre-pandemic economic behaviour and a lease of life for those businesses left counting the cost.
The sense of a ‘return to normal’ – and pre-Covid working practices – is certainly something being predicted by Prime Minister Boris Johnson. On a recent call with 250 business leaders, Johnson said he felt there would be a big appetite for face-to-face interaction from a workforce starved of this in 2020.
According to Sky News’ Sam Coates, he said:“I make a prediction to you all on Zoom who say you are going to change your business models: I don’t believe it. Johnson’s law of remote communication is that the more people can get on Zoom the more they will actually want to interact physically. They will bring back life buzz activity and dynamism to our cities, that’s what will get UK economy whirring again.”
The Centre for Economics and Business Research believes that loosening of lockdown measures will spark growth – and predicts an 8% rise in GDP, the biggest since the Second World War.
This is partly based on the fact that the UK had a large fall in the first place – but also because of the consumption habits of the population. It estimates that, while some clearly struggled, Brits were able to save £200 billion during the pandemic – and will be itching to spend that on the things they’ve missed out on during 2020. Whether it’s shopping, eating out, live sport, music and theatre or tourism – there’s definitely a lot on the nation’s collective bucket list.
Yet not everyone thinks we’ll press a reset button and return to the pre-Covid days. Some of the behaviour of the last year will stay – and it’s important to remember that many of the trends let loose by the pandemic were already evident and were merely sped up by events.
Remote and flexible working, for example, could well be here to stay – with the Institute of Directors finding that nearly three quarters of the companies it surveyed plan to carry on with an increased level of home working after the coronavirus.
It’d also be remiss to think the impact of the virus will just vanish shortly after Easter. Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, did recently warn that some restrictions might well be needed next winter to keep Covid-19 under control as a time when its most likely to surge again.
There’s also likely to be a period where measures are incrementally lifted – when a proportion of the population are still waiting for a vaccine – and so the need for hand washing, sanitiser and social distancing could be around for a large chunk of 2021.
There’s definitely hope for a better year ahead – and chance that more and more ‘normality’ will resume over the coming 12 months. But it’s important to recognise that either through choice or necessity, some changes to the pre-pandemic world will be with us for a long while to come yet.