Express & Star comment: Balancing economy and health is a tricky conundrum

The decidedly tricky balancing act between the economy and health has been an issue that has dominated the coronavirus pandemic.

Balancing economy and health is a tricky conundrum
Balancing economy and health is a tricky conundrum

At the start of the lockdown five months ago, it was widely understood that the impact of Covid-19 could be greatly reduced if office staff worked from home.

Undoubtedly, the new working life for millions, where Zoom meetings have become the norm, helped with social distancing and prevented the spread of the virus. In the main, the changes have been successful – so successful in fact, that a new problem has emerged which is causing more than a few sleepless nights in Whitehall.

Wander around any of our town and city centres on a weekday afternoon and it is impossible not to notice the reduction in footfall.

And with office buildings lying empty, an already struggling high street is suffering yet another hit.

The long term impact of such a scenario – particularly on smaller, independent stores – does not bear thinking about.

The simple fact is that for many firms and organisations, home working has led to increased productivity and greater satisfaction levels among staff. There are reports of major businesses planning to sell off city office blocks, while a number of top firms admit they are exploring the possibility of making working from home a permanent fixture.

It means that the Government’s push to get people back into the workplace is likely to take weeks rather than days to have an impact.

On one hand, it is vital for the survival of our town and city centres that people get back into the office.

But ministers know that the key element is safety, and only when people feel that the virus has retreated from our communities will they start to return to the office in greater numbers.

All eyes will be on schools reopening this week, a move seen as the first major step in our return to normality.

But with cases rising and concerns mounting over a second wave of the virus, this is an issue that only a vaccine can truly solve.

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