Life after Lockdown

What permanent changes to behaviour will there be once the pandemic is brought under control?

3 months ago

Because agents are seemingly stuck in suboptimal habits, an exogenously-imposed constraint such as the London Underground strike of February 2014 brought lasting changes in behaviour.

A study conducted by members of the University of Oxford, University of Cambridge and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) suggested that in 2014, before a major TFL tube strike, 5% of London commuters regularly chose a suboptimal route to their place of work.

The study indicated that commuter behaviour changed after the strike and that many people found a more optimal route, sometimes avoiding the tube network altogether.


Flash-forward to 2020 and most European countries are either implementing a police-enforced ‘shutdown’ or at least following local social distancing measures.

Indeed, the effect of SARS-CoV-2 (Coronavirus) on our daily lives has ranged from marginal disruption to heart-breaking loss.

While on lockdown in Spain, a colleague discussed with me what adjustments we are making during lockdown and whether, as was the case after the strikes in London of 2014, any changes to our lifestyle will become permanent in the aftermath.


What lasting changes may remain when this is all over?


We’ve seen vocal support for our National Health Service (NHS): Not least following praise given by the Prime Minister, after his in-patient treatment for the virus in early April. The spotlight is on the NHS, as well as government promises to better support and fund its services.

The NHS response to the crisis demonstrates not only the flexibility and resolve of our healthcare system, but also its stark limitations.

The limited capacity of our hospitals has been shown in the decisions that are made daily to prioritise some patients over others, as well as the rapid construction of makeshift hospitals, like the NHS Nightingale.

We are also seeing hurried re-recruitment of healthcare professionals, currently in retirement, to cope with the shortfall in staff. More recently, NHS England has also opened recruitment calls to international medical graduates and doctors, including refugees, to help tackle the COVID-19 health crisis.

To help release this pressure, the UK population is advised to stay home and observe social distancing, especially when displaying symptoms. We are also instructed to interact with GPs, physios and other healthcare providers only when necessary, or by calling 111.

This change in public behaviour seems to be having a positive effect not only on the spread of coronavirus but also on A&E admission levels; as a result, A&E departments are seeing the lowest attendance since 2010. This could be due to a mix of factors, but one is undoubtedly that we, as a population, are taking a more responsible approach to our interaction with the NHS.


The government has promised to write off £13.4 billion of historic NHS debt to help it recover in the medium-term.

This is just one of many spending measures that would not have been predicted nor justified politically pre-Coronavirus, but hopefully this is a sign that we are prepared to better support the NHS in the longer-term.

This in turn begs the question: could the current drive to fund and staff the NHS during the crisis lead, in the long run, to a healthier NHS?

What if we could reduce the strain on the health service in future by staying at home and avoiding contact when we show flu-like symptoms that could lead to hospital admissions for others within the population?

And what if we could avoid flooding our A&E departments with avoidable injuries and illnesses once the lockdown is ended and the pubs and clubs reopen?


Remote working

Now, I usually promote remote-working with all the vigour of the newly-converted. But this way of working is not for everyone, and particularly not right now.

Many will feel it is harder to stay focussed. Are you watching Tiger King?

Some will be using poorer equipment and mourn the loss of face-to-face interaction with colleagues.

Childcare and home-schooling are added pressures on remote working, as nurseries and schools close.

However, some companies may discover that with some investment in technology and collaborative initiatives, they can become well-suited to home-working arrangements, flexible working, or four-day working weeks.

There is no doubt that many employees too will realise they no longer wish to spend two hours every day on public transport and, in the long-term, we may see people choosing to spend this time at home or with family, as they have been forced to during lockdown.


Retail

Limits on supermarket buying, social distancing and uncertainty about the future are affecting our spending habits.

The expression that we ‘spend money we don’t have to buy things we don’t want to impress people we don’t like’ may have been true in the pre-Covid world.

However, today salaries are being cut as employees are furloughed, we find ourselves unable to buy things, and we are encouraged not to be social – at least not ‘IRL’.

The predictions hold up against the data as analysts at GlobalData estimate the amount that Britons will spend on clothes and shoes will tumble by 20% – or £11.1bn – in 2020.

RetailX issued a survey quizzing consumers on how their shopping habits have changed during the crisis. It reveals that buyers have switched to making purchases online for home comfort and sustenance and, interestingly, 25% of those surveyed say that they believe they will carry on shopping in this new manner after the pandemic.


Fitness

What is replacing ostentatious purchases and high street fashion? Home fitness.

At the time of writing, it is almost impossible to purchase spinning bikes on Amazon, and the increase in buying other home gym equipment exceeds any Christmas/Black Friday sale in memory.

That many of these bikes will be on the second-hand market again by Christmas at a far lower price is also very possible…

But getting fit does seem to preoccupy many of those who are furloughed at home.

We see this in the rise in fitness app use, the spike in purchases of gym equipment, and increasingly in millions of Brits and their children gathering to watch personal trainers like Joe Wicks online each morning for “PE”.

We are also hearing, anecdotally at least, that more people are taking up their 1-hour exercise per day allotted by the government during lockdown.

I see it very clearly where I live, just outside the Lake District. Trails which were usually empty apart from a few other runners are now packed with families walking together.

If taking daily family walks is to become more commonplace, this may at least make us a little healthier and a little happier in the long-term.

It would certainly be a positive development if we emerged from this horrendous health crisis with a better understanding of the pressures on our NHS, and a more responsible attitude to our own health and lifestyle.


Forcing us to forgo many of the things we took for granted pre-lockdown may in fact show us what we really need to function afterwards: spend less frivolously, exercise more and work more flexibly.

Written by Craig Brown, Director of New Business Development

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