Six months ago I wrote an article titled ‘Exhibition cancellations, Coronavirus, and a shortage of bog rolls - now is the time to clean up’. It was a lighthearted take on how the world was seemingly going crazy at the time and freaking out about Coronavirus and COVID-19. I suggested that the only way to avoid catching COVID-19 would be to sit around at home doing nothing for the next four months while the world around you goes totally insane. Err…
It started when everything came to an abrupt halt with the lockdown. The government shut down the economy but not the airports. We couldn’t go out except to buy groceries and take daily exercise once a day, but people could still fly in from all corners of the infected world.
During the early stages of lockdown the Police were the first to go a little bit bonkers after Parliament handed the authorities the most draconian powers ever known during peacetime. Police were given blanket powers to enforce largely arbitrary rules, which led to Derbyshire Police using drones to shame the public for going on ‘non-essential’ walks in the countryside. The same constabulary also set up road blocks to arrest members of the public for making anything it deemed to be ‘unnecessary journeys’ and poured black dye in a beauty spot known as the 'blue lagoon' in the Peak District to deter visitors! Don’t believe me? Google it for yourself.
And it got worse. On Good Friday, Cambridgeshire Police tweeted that officers were pleased to find no shoppers in the ‘non-essential’ aisles at Tesco because it deemed that Easter Eggs were a non-essential shopping item. On the same day, South Yorkshire Police were forced to apologise after an officer in Rotherham was filmed telling a family they were not allowed in their own front garden.
The public was even encouraged to report on their neighbours for minor infractions of the rules, and people were willingly reporting their neighbours for going out for an additional walk or for having a few friends over. One particular video shared online showed a group of Police officers breaking down a man’s front door because they had received reports from neighbours of a social gathering when in fact the man was inside watching television alone. Within weeks of lockdown our nation had begun to slip into a semi-Stasi mode. It was utterly depressing.
As lockdown progressed I mentioned to a friend that I was anticipating an impending period of civil unrest. It became clear to me that we were sitting on a powder keg that was just waiting to go off. It’s why they have riots in prisons. If you coup people up long enough and deny them their basic rights and freedoms they will eventually go rogue. All it takes is for a tiny spark. Four thousand miles away in America that spark ignited in the city of Minneapolis when a drugged up career criminal with a rap sheet as long as your arm died at the hands of the local Police. Video footage of the incident went viral, and the watching world, which also had nothing much else do do, threw up its collective arms in horror. This led to months of rioting in some twenty cities in America amid calls to defund metropolitan Police departments, while in London the once overly authoritarian Police began to kneel before baying mobs while the mayor announced £110m in Police budget cuts. You couldn’t make it up.
One could say that the Coronavirus pandemic is a black swan event. The theory of black swan events is a metaphor that describes an event that comes as a surprise, has a major effect, and is often inappropriately rationalised after the fact with the benefit of hindsight. This is why it sometimes feels as if the government is making things up on the back of a fag packet, but they are not really to blame for our ills. Well, not unless you adhere to the Swedish school of thought. They did not lock everything down and murder their own economy in the process, and as such have suffered only around 6,000 deaths as a result. In the UK we chose to take the murderous route and our body count could fill the average football stadium. How come we made such a dreadful cock-up of it all and the Swedes did not?
Well the Swedes had more common sense than us for a start. They took one look at the predicted death rates of 500,000 that were put forward by Imperial College epidemiologist Neil Ferguson and promptly chose to ignore him. Our government should have done the same because the man is a complete and utter charlatan. He must have made these numbers up by reading tea leaves in a cup.
Let us not forget that Neil Ferguson was behind the disputed research that sparked the mass culling of eleven million sheep and cattle during the 2001 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. He also predicted that up to 150,000 people could die. There were in fact fewer than 200 deaths. In 2002, Ferguson predicted that up to 50,000 people would likely die from exposure to BSE (mad cow disease) in beef. In the UK, there were only 177 deaths from BSE. In 2005, Ferguson then predicted that up to 150 million people could be killed from bird flu. In the end, only 282 people died worldwide from the disease between 2003 and 2009. In 2009, a government estimate, based on Ferguson’s advice, said a “reasonable worst-case scenario” was that the swine flu would lead to 65,000 British deaths. In the end, swine flu killed 457 people in the UK. Ferguson recently admitted that his Imperial College model of the COVID-19 disease was based on undocumented, 13-year-old computer code that was intended to be used for a feared influenza pandemic, rather than a coronavirus. So the real scandal is: Why did anyone ever listen to this freaking idiot in the first place?
The UK government was clearly panicked at the time and Boris Johnson made a terrible decision based upon Ferguson’s useless data modelling - and Sweden knew it. How they must have chuckled as they conducted the same five minute Google search as me for the purpose of this article to look up Neil Ferguson’s previous cock-up’s and thought maybe they might give this one a bit of a miss. But let’s not cry over spilt milk eh?
So how do we get ourselves out of this mess? Some sectors of the printing industry have fared better than others during COVID. The Sign and Display sector has held up relatively well because it has been able to respond to the demand for spittle screens and as such sales of acrylic sheeting have gone through the roof. The sector was also very quick off the mark in recognising that the two words ‘social’ and ‘distancing’ could lead to an upswing in demand for creative floor graphics and screens to keep us apart. There has also been a demand for internal social distancing way-finding signage because, after all, we all now need to be told where to stand, which way to face, where to walk, how to wear a mask, and we hope you enjoyed your shopping experience with us.
Litho and cut sheet digital production printing has not fared quite as well, and with good reason. Nobody is rushing to go back to working in the office. This is also not helped by the government telling people that they should work from home whenever possible. This is madness! Think about your own recent lockdown experience. In my instance we are a one car family. I have not been anywhere, so one tank of gas lasted over four months. I skipped a service because it wasn’t needed. I need a new tyre but I am yet to buy it. The paper in my printer tray remains full as are the ink cartridges. Whatever I needed I had delivered. Whatever I wanted I downloaded. Whatever I watched I streamed. The only things I have consumed are bog rolls, alcohol and food. Therefore if everybody else is sat working from home and doing the same we are never going to rebuild our economy.
Rishi Sunak can hand out five pound notes in the high street for as long as he likes and it isn’t going to make a jot of difference until people go back to work. Period. This way the coffee shops, sandwich bars, and cafes will begin to flourish once more. Office stationery will begin to be consumed. People will pop to the shops in their lunch breaks once again and retail will slowly begin to pick itself up. Others will go to the gym, either at lunchtime or after work. Companies will begin to find their feet again as they think about how to re-connect with customers in a post COVID world.
The movement of people in the workplace will generate more demand for print. But without people, print will remain static, and until such time that people stop working from home there will be little demand for ink or toner on paper.
Let’s all get back to work as soon as possible.