This is what an “emergency” feels like. The imminent threat to life posed by the COVID-19 virus has prompted us to make radical changes to our lives – some of which could serve us well in the future.
The next few months will test many people like never before, especially those working in public-facing jobs in health and social care, teaching, retail, restaurants, hotels, events, leisure, entertainment and public transport. Businesses experiencing cash-flow difficulties (salaries, rent and loan payments falling due faster than revenues to pay them) are already laying off staff.
In supporting businesses, government must support the staff – employed and contracted – whose jobs are at risk, not just business owners. Similarly, as businesses adapt to becoming zero carbon, many more people’s jobs will be threatened, and they too must be supported in developing new skills for the new economy.
Now that many people are working from home, traffic levels have dropped dramatically, almost eliminating congestion and markedly reducing air pollution. That is good news for asthma suffers, but we all – especially children – are healthier for breathing cleaner air.
Employers have been frantically sorting out IT systems and learning new management practices to ensure home-working is productive. For many, home-working is not practical long term, but remote-working could be. Imagine if, in every town and larger village, there were serviced offices for people from different companies to work together. Workers could have all the facilities and social interaction of office life without a stressful and polluting commute.
Halfords announced a 30% rise in sales of folding bikes over recent weeks as more people choose to cycle instead of using public transport (mainly in London). Earlier it reported a 96% rise in sales of e-bikes over the Christmas period. This all adds weight to calls for government and the Greater Cambridge Partnership to invest much more and urgently to facilitate safe cycling everywhere. If somewhere is accessible by car, it should be accessible locally by cycle for anyone aged eight to eighty.
Will our response to this emergency equip us better to address the climate and air pollution emergencies?
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 25 March 2020.