COVID-19: Institutional Inertia, the Need for Vision, and the Collapse of the US and the UK

Donald Trump and Boris Johnson both wearing masks as protection against the coronavirus COVID-19. Trump wore a mask in public for thew first time just a month ago, having previously said that he would not do so. The day before, Johnson, who is rarely seen at all, wore a mask for the first time in public while visiting businesses in his Uxbridge constituency.

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Six months since the arrival of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, prompted an unprecedented lockdown on social and economic activity, a veneer of normality has been resumed, although it remains an uneasy time. Pubs and restaurants are open, cars once more fill the streets, turning the taste of the air to one of petrol after months without it, and zombie shoppers once more return to high streets and shopping malls to buy clothing produced in factories — mostly in the “developing world” — that involves economic exploitation of the unseen, and nothing short of environmental destruction, as these factories kill off rivers with their noxious chemicals.

As I see on an almost daily basis, however, on my bike rides into the West End and the City of London to take photos for my ongoing photo-journalism project ‘The State of London’, the veneer is very thin. Although people have been returning to the West End since June 15, when “non-essential” shops were allowed to to reopen, the numbers are down, and massively so.

As I explained in my most recent COVID-related article, COVID-19: Workers and Employers Show No Great Enthusiasm for Returning to the Office to Revive “Business As Usual”, 5.1m people visited the West End in the first full month of the post-lockdown re-opening of retail outlets, but that was 73% down year-on-year, and will not enable businesses to survive unless landlords also write off 73% of their rents. If they do, the virus will have succeeded in denting the wealth of the rich; if they don’t, the West End will soon be a wasteland of shuttered shops, because however much some people are enjoying al fresco street dining in pedestrianised streets in Soho, there is an achingly huge financial hole where the tourists and office workers used to be.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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