Monday. 27/4/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Tyler Brûlé

Long and short of it

As much of Europe shifts towards “the big easing”, we’re reminded which countries have had it easier than others (Sweden, the Netherlands and Switzerland come to mind) and what sectors are considered national priorities (haircuts come before education, for sure). Over the past week we’ve seen Austria come back to life with considerable success: no stampedes at retail and lots of happy window boxes thanks to garden centres reopening. And Germany has also allowed many of its shopkeepers to welcome customers again as long as the appropriate hygiene measures are in place.

Today it’s Switzerland’s turn to get things moving again. But the choice of flower shops, garden centres, massage parlours, beauticians and hair salons as the first to open has raised many an unplucked eyebrow. While most are happy that life will be returning to the streets of Basel, St Gallen, Lugano and Lausanne, some cantons are calling on all retail to open this week as they point to Austria and Germany as examples of like-minded self-regulation. So far, Switzerland’s federal council is standing firm on its decision and promises more relaxation in other parts of society if everyone behaves.

While they haven’t offered the most convincing rationale for why hairdressers should take precedence over other shops and services, there might well be some sound economic thinking behind all of this. After all, doesn’t it make more sense to open up fashion shops once everyone has a fresh spring cut and shave instead of unkempt locks and whiskers?

Diplomacy / Taiwan

Strategic face-off

China has been engaging in “mask diplomacy” but Taiwan isn’t far behind: its nimble machine-and-tooling industry has made it the world’s second-largest mask manufacturer. According to Nikkei Asian Review, industry executives joined forces in February to convert a small warehouse into a factory to produce mask-making machines. While the companies spearheading the effort were more accustomed to making parts for cars, planes or smartphones, they enlisted 200 engineers from 29 businesses to produce 90 machines within a month, allowing Taiwan to grow its previous daily production of 1.9m masks tenfold. While the masks have protected the Taiwanese, the increased output has also allowed Taiwan to donate millions to the US, UK and EU, keeping in step with China in a battle for international goodwill. Even low-cost items such as masks can become items of strategic – and diplomatic – importance in unusual times.

Aviation / Global

Setting a new course

One of the industries that’s been hit hardest by coronavirus has been aviation. The sector’s revenue this year is expected to be halved, leading to losses of more than $300bn (€278bn). In response, the International Air Transport Association is offering a small but smart silver lining: free training opportunities for thousands of affected employees while flights are grounded. The global trade association, whose members comprise 82 per cent of total airline traffic, has long offered a range of paid training and education options.

But now it has opened up 5,000 free places on its most popular e-courses, including aviation-competition law and airline retailing. The application deadline for the courses was today but demand was so high that all of the places have already been taken. Let’s hope that other industry bodies take note: using this enforced downtime to improve staff skills will help companies get off to a flying start once things get back to normal.

Society / Australia & New Zealand

Morning memorial

At the weekend musicians around Australia and New Zealand were given licence to wake their neighbours with a tune. Brass players in the antipodean nations were invited to play the “Last Post” – a Commonwealth military bugle call – at 06.00 on Saturday to commemorate Anzac Day. In lieu of large gatherings, people took to their front yards to recognise the national holiday for veterans and war heroes; New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Arden stood in her Wellington driveway with a wreath, while residents in Perth held candles at their doorsteps. If people weren’t drawn out of bed by a sense of patriotic obligation, perhaps it was the need to feel a part of something bigger in this time of isolation that compelled them to their porches. Much like the nightly clapping around the world to show support for health workers, Saturday’s bugle call was yet another reminder that, as with war efforts of the past, we’re all in this together.

Culture / Global

Leaps and bounds

Today sees the launch of a new online literary festival. BookBound 2020 features international authors who’ve been brought together to discuss ideas, all of which will be streamed live on YouTube. While the literati might still be reeling from the cancellation of major events in the literary calendar – including Hay Festival, which was due to take place at the end of May – they should take heart. BookBound 2020 co-curator Dan Richards says that an online programme has its advantages: beyond the carbon-friendly credentials of gathering a global roster of authors without booking a single flight, it’s also encouraged a certain egalitarian spirit, with bestselling authors appearing on panels alongside newcomers. “I think people are happier to take more risks,” says Richards. “Throughout the programme we have people at different stages of their careers talking and it’s just such a wonderful thing.”

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Eureka 194: Canlis

Canlis might be the only restaurant in Seattle that still maintains a dress code but the 70-year-old fine-dining institution is anything but stuck in the past. When coronavirus struck, third-generation owners Brian and Mark Canlis used it as an opportunity to rethink their business.

Monocle Films / Switzerland

Swiss spectacle: Fête des Vignerons

We clink glasses with wine-makers at a once-in-a-generation festival in the otherwise tame town of Vevey. Fête des Vignerons is a parade of Swiss viticulture wisdom complete with cows, costumes and carousing.

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