Major events of the kind that come to be seen as era-defining tend, over time, to attract a simple question: “Where were you when you heard it?” The assassination of JFK, the death of Princess Diana and 9/11 are just a few examples, and it’s reasonable to assume that to this list Brits may add the moment a Prime Minister addressed the nation and declared that “many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time”.
Boris Johnson is said to have hankered after a Churchill moment throughout his political career but he would doubtless rather write books about the wartime leader than be called upon to summon up his spirit as the nation faces “the worst public health crisis for a generation”.
This emergency feels immediate. The market panic, the breaking headlines, it all adds to the sense that the storm is at its height. But we now know that the worst of it is yet to come.
The government calculates that the peak of the epidemic in this country is 10 to 12 weeks away. That means the summer will be coming to an end before we’re able to look back on this and, to put it crudely, assess the damage.
It also means that our economy and the markets that power it will be facing months of uncertainty, disruption and bouts of panic. Plenty of people in the City have come to accept that we are in a “2008 moment”— though there will be clear differences between that shock and this one.
The responses to it will be different, too. Will there be global, coordinated action? Or will each country run through a series of measures in trial and error? The question of how central banks should respond is still being debated, even as they reach for emergency rate cuts.
And it’s too soon to tell which businesses and sectors will go to the wall in the coming months. Airlines, events, leisure, travel and hospitality are all facing nightmare scenarios and if the cumulative impact is a sharp recession (even a short one) then the fallout will be wider still. There’s no other way to put it: these are deeply troubling times.
Our society and our economy will be tested. People and businesses will need help. The best thing we can all do, beyond washing our hands, is to be generous, patient and supportive towards colleagues, employees and clients. In short, we’re going to have to help each other through this.
Main image: Getty