Pandemic struggles continue for businesses, consumers

In an ideal world, an early lockdown and our stringent adherence to public health measures would have nipped the novel coronavirus in the bud. That’s not what happened, and more than a year and a half later, we’re still embroiled in restrictions.

Even with the fourth wave, the number of cases has subsided from the heights seen at the worst of the crisis. Not everyone took all the necessary precautions, including getting vaccinated, so the spread continues at a greater rate than what might have been.

In the end, we have a trade-off between our choices, overly restrictive governance and the economy.

Arguments about liberties and freedom, more muted here than in other countries – the U.S., for example – haven’t had much resonance, as most of us recognize there’s a health-related crisis. Likewise, governments in this country have been less inclined to employ draconian measures to keep people away from one another, unlike authoritarian regimes. Most pressingly, people still had to work, shop for essentials and care for loved ones, among other reasons total self-isolation wasn’t a viable option.

Our society is much more open than at the worst of the lockdowns – to which a return would be politically impossible – but that isn’t carte blanche for people not to carry out precautions such as mask-wearing and keeping their distance.

The debate has shifted, however, to issues of vaccine passports and mandatory vaccinations for a growing number of workers who face the prospect of vaccination requirements … or seeking a new job.

More fraught with ethical quandaries are restrictions on unvaccinated people, such as preventing them from returning to the likes of concert venues, sporting events and movie theatres. That’s certainly in keeping with government policies tying the reopening of the economy to vaccination levels – the more of us are vaccinated, the quicker we can return to normal, or so the message goes.

But how is it we’re to tell the vaccinated from the unvaccinated? For public spots that require proof of vaccination, there’s already a process in place. For something like airline travel, screening is already the norm, so there would be little extra imposition, but the logistics of asking everyone entering, say, an arena for their papers is onerous.

Already under pressure prior to the pandemic, small retailers and restaurants, for example, have for the past year and a half ceded much ground to corporate operations and, perhaps more ominously, online services. They also now bear a larger burden in the enforcement of vaccination-passport policies.

The retail environment has been especially unstable for years, of course. It’s no secret the retail landscape is changing. Such is how it’s always been. But, just like the economy, it’s been hollowed out in the middle. Today, much of the growth is in the low end and the high end. Under pressure today from big-box retail, much as they were from the malls in previous generations, small businesses – the mainstays of downtown cores that are the subject of angst in just about every municipality – are having to cope with change, like it or not.

With the bulk of us seeing declining buying power and punishing debt levels, it’s not surprising these same business interests make changes in order to coax the remaining dollars out of our wallets.

Online shopping continues to pull ahead, with the behemoth that is Amazon outstripping the sales of major retail stores – Amazon has been posting record profits through the pandemic, though the brick-and-mortar Walmart has been making out like a bandit, as well.

No stranger, then, to marketplace adversity, small businesses have faced nothing like the government-mandated closures/restrictions that emerged last year. There can be no more lockdowns, but high vaccination rates will help avoid such talk.

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