Things that it was good we learned this year

Rather than a “hey look at the good that actually happened in 2020” I’d rather take a more realistic view: there are a whole bunch of things that are very good for us to have learned/been reminded of – but that aren’t necessarily good

Medical Science can do amazing things, when we want it to

  • The virus was genetically sequenced within a month of it being discovered
  • The speed at which we got a whole range of vaccines/vaccine approaches into trials was incredible – that many of the vaccines were made never having been near the virus, is incredible
  • RNA vaccines could revolutionise things – we’ve shown efficacy and some have suggested that if we have vaccine templates in place for major families of pathogens we could have the ability to rapidly respond to the next pandemic
  • Clinical trials, such as the UK “Recovery” trial found existing drugs that have improved survival rates

Turns out we need society and collective action

  • Masks help other people more than they help you… without that sense of shared responsibility their use won’t be consistent
  • Local Mutual-Aid groups popped up around communities, and people helped those shielding or isolating

The situation has codified and made visible inequalities

  • People with jobs where they can comfortably work from home, have been shielded from a lot of the worst of the situation
  • They can likely afford to buy delivery food, order online – and effectively outsourcing their risk to someone else
  • Freed from that casualisation of employment, they have far less concern if asked to isolate
  • Contactless payment everywhere is great for those of us who hate carrying cash, but less good for the under-banked who find it hard or impossible to get a contactless card or account

The casualisation of employment hurts us all

  • Casual workers tend to move around between clients and sites more, which in the case of Melbourne’s Aged Care facilities, meant that they were in a prime position to move the infection between facilities
  • Casual workers also can’t sit at home as easily waiting for a test results because they have bills to pay, or to isolate when they’ve had a contact.

Not all Key-Workers where a fancy uniform

  • Health service employees have had a terrible time, working in stressed conditions, seeing more death than any of them signed up for. But they did sign up to work for a critical function in society.
  • The same can’t be said for people who work on the tills in the supermarket. We discovered that food-retail is pretty important – but until now those people didn’t get any of the cachet for that role
  • Similarly delivery drivers, postmen, transport workers… the list goes on, but there are numerous roles, that are occasionally looked down on, that turn out to be vital

Food supply chains maybe don’t need to be quite so lean

I love a just-in-time manufacturing supply chain as much as any logistics nerd, but while it makes sense for car-parts, it maybe doesn’t make sense for everything

  • Food systems adapted, but initially they were shown wanting for supplies (interestingly packaging rather than the food goods in some cases)

5 days a week in the office is dead, remote learning can be a thing

  • Turns out that most jobs can almost be done at home – knowing this might help people less able to travel due to health conditions get work
  • 5 days a week at home isn’t great though: it can be lonely, cramped, maybe not possible if you’re in a shared home. I suspect we’ll end up with most people doing 2-3 days a week in an office and the rest remote
  • Local co-working spaces may well pop up – many people who want to get out of the house may not need a commute, they just need a comfortable place to work where they can see people, just not their colleagues
  • Many disabled people have tweeted, in justified disgust, that they asked for remote learning for years, and were told “it wasn’t possible”. Turns out that lecturers can load Teams when able-bodied people need that facility

The Economy needs to adjust to the end of Big City Centre Offices

  • Our economy is too service sector heavy: Jobs have been lost because people aren’t coming into city-centres anymore. I sympathise with those employees & unlike a govt campaign (actually from months before the pandemic) not all of those people can retrain in cyber
  • Despite this hurt, and what politicians/commercial property owners say in press op-eds: we are not obliged to support the service-sector in the city centre as a patriotic duty
  • Some of those jobs may be relocated to places nearer where people are now, (personally I’ve still bought far too many takeaway meals while WFH)
  • Going forward, do we need more mixed-use neighbourhoods like you see in mainland Europe, driving the demand for services, not driven by office-workers


To those people working in the NHS, I think we all thank you, and hopefully we’ll find ways to do It that go beyond clapping

  • While no health service truly coped with this, years of recruitment shortfall have exacerbated difficulties in the NHS response
  • While impressive how quickly we built the Nightingale hospitals, because admitting hospitals needed to provide staffing and equipment for the patients, it made little sense for them to be used, resulting in them being white elephants
  • When freed from arbitrary government targets, the NHS can radically reconfigure itself when it needs to.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

  • The entire world shouldn’t outsource production of PPE to one area in China, that happened to be hard hit by the outbreak – we should have some on-shore production that could be ramped up at times of crisis
  • PPE Management shouldn’t be given to random companies – this is a UK specific one, but we love outsourcing things, and sometimes you can’t just treat specialist things as commodities
  • Those PPE stockpiles should be actively managed – rather than building up emergency stockpiles – we should always be taking stuff out of them and replenishing, that way we don’t end up with years old PPE that needs to be re-certified for use, which doesn’t instil confidence

UK Government Response

  • The Prime Minister undermining the response before it even began, when the government message was “Don’t go home for Mother’s Day” and the PM was quoted “I’m still hoping to see my Mum” wasn’t a good look. Nor was sanctioning his advisor for taking a unique eye-test in Durham
  • Any effective pandemic response always feels excessive, because it’s done before it feels needed. Having a PM who is unable to make decisions before his hand is forced, doesn’t work so well
  • The UK needs to give up its obsession with throwing problems at generic business process outsourcing companies, they do a shit job time and time again, and have take far too much money for a sub-standard response
  • Continuing the above, local contract tracing teams work better than centralised teams – replicated in other places, not just the UK
  • After a brief period of IT improvement though GDS, the UK can once again have poor IT processes waste money with private IT companies: just look at the money spent on the initial Bluetooth app that everyone who understood iOS restrictions told them wouldn’t work
  • Worse the failed excel handover mechanism that cost lives because contacts weren’t followed up. I know that people do things at haste in situations like that… but still

We need to address online-misinformation

  • There have always been contrarian conspiracy people, but without the distribution channels of social media, their impact has been limited: their actions undermine trust in the response, vaccines. etc.