Tuesday. 28/4/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Fiona Wilson

Split decisions

Even before a state of emergency was declared on 7 April, Japanese workers were moving towards teleworking or being told by their employers to stay at home. It wasn’t long before the term “corona divorce” started appearing on social media. Couples who usually spent little time together were finding out just how irritating their other half could be. Enforced proximity wasn’t the only problem either. Approaches to the virus could be wildly different: while one partner was fastidiously washing their hands and staying in, the other was taking the train into the office as usual.

One company has jumped in to avert a marital crisis. Kasoku, which offers short-term rentals, has set up a website called Corona Rikon (Corona Divorce) offering frazzled couples “temporary shelters” – at discounted rates – where one person can telework without annoying the other. The stay-at-home divorce discussion is reminiscent of another phenomenon identified by a Japanese doctor some years ago: “retired husband syndrome”, a stress-related affliction brought on when men retire and wives find their constant presence in the house hard to bear. In both cases, the real culprit is surely a demanding work culture and its impact on family life.

Meanwhile, Kasoku is doing its best to stay afloat during tough times. Divorce prevention is an unlikely side business for a property company but it at least offers the possibility of income from its 500 rentals lying empty. The website exhorts couples to hold tight until the crisis passes, keep their distance and hang on for government subsidies. But if a break-up is unavoidable, the company also offers divorce consultation. It really does have all the angles covered.

Design / Italy

Back on the table

At this time of year a design editor’s inbox is typically filled with press releases from Italian furniture companies great and small, all relating to Milan Design Week, which usually takes place in April. Coronavirus halted the 2020 edition of Salone del Mobile, of course. But the good news from these same furniture companies is that they are preparing to resume manufacturing. Factories for design giants B&B Italia, in Novedrate, and Moroso, in Udine, are gearing up for work from today. Meanwhile, the whole industry will breathe a sigh of relief as more companies in Lombardy, both the epicentre of the outbreak and Italy’s design heartland, fire up their machines in the coming days. “The industry is strong and our brands are strong – but there will be economic consequences,” says Roberto Gavazzi, CEO of Boffi De Padova, one of Italy’s most important furniture groups, ahead of the wider restart next week. He adds that large Italian furniture companies – like his – and the government must work together to support the smaller artisans and suppliers that the industry relies upon if it is to return to full strength.

Politics / Brazil

Making a move

Reading the weekend papers in Brazil, you would have had to turn quite a few pages before finding out the latest on the pandemic. Instead, coverage was dominated by the battles within president Jair Bolsonaro’s government that culminated in the resignation of his justice minister, Sergio Moro.

Moro (pictured) is considered a hero for many Brazilians – he was in charge of a massive anti-corruption operation known as Car Wash that brought down former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, among others – while his close alliance with Bolsonaro made him a popular minister among the public. Moro left the government saying that he disagreed with Bolsonaro’s sacking of the head of the federal police and accusing the president of interference. All of this is great fodder for political commentators, who already have an eye on the next presidential elections in 2022. Moro could be a contender if he chooses to run – and a strong one at that.

Labour / Germany

Home for good

The coronavirus pandemic has seen much of the world forced to adapt their working lives according to physical-distancing rules. But the first signs are now emerging that elements of this new working culture might outlive the pandemic. In Germany, where a quarter of the population is now working from home, the minister for labour and social affairs, Hubertus Heil, has been so impressed by how effectively the country has adapted to “home office” (as it is known in German) that he hopes to enshrine the practice into law. Heil announced yesterday that he is working on legislation that would give employees the right to work from home even after the pandemic is over. The legislation would give workers the choice of working from home for part of the week or full-time if their job allows them to do so. Expect more countries to follow suit (or should that be tracksuit?) in the coming months.

Urbanism / Europe

Chain reaction

With pop-up bike lanes and newly minted pedestrian plazas now commonplace in cities across the globe, some local governments are considering making these temporary installations permanent. Paris, which last week announced plans to build 650km of emergency cycle lanes for the post-lockdown phase, hopes that this will accelerate existing plans to make all of the city’s streets cycle-friendly by 2024. Milan is also leading the charge, announcing that 35km of its roads will be reconfigured in the coming months to make more room for walking and cycling. “We have to reimagine Milan in the new situation,” says Marco Granelli, one of the city’s deputy mayors. “That’s why [these changes are] so important to defend even a part of the economy; to support bars, artisans and restaurants.” If slower and more inviting streets can’t convince other mayors to make their temporary cycle and pedestrian infrastructure permanent, perhaps an associated economic bounceback in Milan can.

M24 / The Foreign Desk

Coronavirus vs privacy

As the coronavirus pandemic spreads around the world, many governments are seeking to extend powers of surveillance to contain the outbreak. How can democracies protect their citizens’ health as well as their privacy?

Monocle Films / Georgia

Tbilisi’s architectural revival

Rather than erase all evidence of Georgia’s Soviet past, the country’s architectural community is keen to preserve its history and give its once-foreboding buildings another – happier – lease of life.

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