Monday 23 March 2020 6:00 am

Tackling the virus will require big changes to lives and businesses

Annual General Meetings don’t normally count as part of one’s social life, no matter how entertaining Mike Ashley’s are. But new rules on social distancing mean that a gathering of directors and shareholders is hard to justify.

The London Stock Exchange and other City institutions are right to push for a change to the Companies Act, as part of emergency legislation, so that such events can be staged in a virtual environment. It’s just one of the many, many ways in which businesses are going to have to adapt.

For some firms, this is primarily a logistical challenge: setting up fully remote working and all the digital infrastructure that entails. For others, the crisis is much more immediate – hitting cashflow and confidence with shocking speed.

The hospitality sector, in particular, is facing ruination. Government support to cover costs will be welcome, but spare a thought for the hundreds of thousands of small businesses in tourism which rely on the spring and summer seasons to make money for the rest of the year.

From Cornwall to Cumbria, they face dire circumstances. While businesses are having stringent (and potentially fatal) measures imposed upon them, the advice given to the wider public does not appear to be sinking in.

In London, where the spread of the virus far outpaces the rest of the country, the warm weather yesterday drew crowds into parks and street markets. The mayor, Sadiq Khan, is appalled. His message was clear: stay in your home or people will die. Any gathering, any movement through crowds risks hastening the spread of the virus.

Boris Johnson appears reluctant to infringe too far on people’s liberty and has resisted calls from some experts to impose more draconian measures on the people of the capital, but that moment must surely be approaching.

The scenes from hospitals in Spain and Italy are deeply distressing and doctors there warn us to brace for the same. In the face of those warnings, and those scenes, flouting the advice on social distancing seems like reckless selfishness.

As Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, said yesterday: ‚ÄúLife shouldn’t feel normal right now, so if your life still feels entirely normal, ask yourself if you are doing the right things.”

Main image: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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