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COVID-19. What Really Matters?

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Walking along the Essex Road, a long, shop-lined street in Islington in north London, last week, it was business almost as normal. Except that in the two shops your correspondent visited the same questions were posed: “How are you? Are you well?”

Credits to Manuel Silvestri

In the normal run of things, this would be a pleasantry – something said by a small trader or shop-owner to one of his regular customers. Last week, however, they were really interested in the answer as the subtext for this one was: “Have you got it?”. “It” being Covid-19 and the UK is some way behind other parts of Europe in terms of locking down its population, but really it’s just a matter of time. Indeed, by the time you read this, the UK may well have yielded to the inevitable and forced shops, with the exception of groceries and pharmacies, to close.

Some of you reading this may by now be familiar with the idea that you only go shopping for things you need and as a mindset this is a complete about-turn from the normal way that retail is conducted. Yet, for the foreseeable future it looks set to be the way things are.

Forget about fashion therefore and think about markets, supermarkets and places that will allow you to pick up a blister pack of paracetamol. There are the locations that have been in the headlines for a couple of weeks now as ‘stock-pilers’ brawl over the availability of toilet tissue and dried or tinned goods.

TURIN, ITALY – March 12, 2020: A woman wearing a respiratory mask walks past a closed Nike shop. The Italian government shutted down majority of stores to halt the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. (Photo by Nicolò Campo/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

And it is here that the ability to operate as a shop, rather than a gladiatorial arena, will be central to maintaining both order and keeping the population in a state where they can combat the virus. Shopping hours for the elderly have already been instituted in some supermarkets, ensuring that the most vulnerable can get what they need ahead of pushier younger types.

Equally, generosity has been a hallmark of some retailers and brands over the last few days. Everybody from LVMH, which has switched from designer perfume production to hand sanitisers, to bakeries offering free sourdough starter kits to those who want to bake, seeing what can be done.

The phrase ‘together’ has been much used over the period and retail, as much as any other sector, has demonstrated what it is capable of when our very survival is at stake. Needless to say, there will still be those who seek to profit from a global catastrophe, but they are the exception and it seems reasonable to suppose that we will emerge from all of this with both a sense of how fragile our grip on things actually is and an understanding of what really, really matters.

At MiND, we hope you stay well and strong in this difficult time.

By John Ryan