Wednesday. 24/6/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

A problem shared

The Brexit referendum was four years ago yesterday and, whatever one’s view of the result, I’ve been reassured by the UK government’s repeated insistence that the country will remain an “outward-facing” nation with close EU relations. As such, one of the more disappointing aspects of this coronavirus pandemic has been the lack of co-ordination, both within and outside the UK, on how best to get our societies up and running again.

Boris Johnson yesterday announced that a series of English institutions – including pubs, restaurants, hairdressers, cinemas and even hotels – can reopen on 4 July, marking the most significant step towards relaxing the coronavirus restrictions to date. Although this is tremendously welcome for the hospitality industry, it’s unfortunate that such an announcement could not be synchronised with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. And whereas hotels in England can soon open to domestic tourism, it’s regrettable that this could not be co-ordinated with the EU, where internal Schengen borders have reopened to the kind of responsible travel that is essential to the hospitality industry’s survival this summer.

The two-week quarantine for any arrivals to the UK, which was introduced on 8 June, is to be reassessed next week and there’s talk of “air corridors” being agreed with some nations. But the general fear about European travellers re-infecting the country seems misplaced; most EU nations are ahead of the UK in their pandemic cycles (though some are admittedly seeing signs of a second wave) and so have little understanding of why they should pose a unique “risk”.

The point is not to say that we should relax and abandon all caution. Appropriate safety measures need to be taken and some modes of transport remain riskier than others – a plane is tricky but what’s wrong with driving across borders? However, it’s important to dispel the notion that European visitors to the UK might be less cautious than domestic travellers. Even after Brexit, more regional co-ordination and a common approach with the continent would be hugely beneficial – for our health and our economies.

Elections / Singapore

Vote of confidence

Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong (pictured), announced yesterday that a snap general election will be held on 10 July. Lee’s People’s Action party (PAP) has ruled with a large majority since 1959 and, while there had been talk earlier this year that various opposition parties could make inroads, the city-state’s effective handling of the coronavirus outbreak means that the party’s re-election is all but assured. What’s been the key to its success? “These people are highly skilled operators and the PAP has a history of doing very well on the back of crises and change,” says Nicholas Walton, author of Singapore, Singapura: from Miracle to Complacency. He cites the nation’s expansion during the Vietnam War and throughout the economic emergence of East Asia. “The PAP faces many more challenges right now – the China-US trade war, regional instability and the changing nature of trade. But it can comfortably point to its record of coming back stronger.”

Health / Switzerland

Doctors on call

As the healthcare sector finds itself front and centre during the coronavirus pandemic, a new survey sponsored by the pharmaceutical firm Novartis has revealed that interest from technology professionals in joining the sector has surged in recent months – 72 per cent are more likely to enter the industry now than six months ago. It couldn’t come at a better time: Novartis’s chief digital officer, Bertrand Bodson, tells Monocle that healthcare has lagged behind other industries in digital innovation and is only just beginning to tap into its potential. One of the challenges? About 40 per cent of technology professionals surveyed said that they didn’t think they had the right knowledge to work in healthcare. “I think that’s a massive myth,” says Bodson, who himself came to Novartis via Amazon. “It’s on us to make sure that we have the right pairing between scientists and technologists who can bring their own [expertise] to the party.” Partnerships are key, he says: “I’m a massive believer that we cannot do it alone.”

Construction / Canada

Timber land

The government of British Columbia is hoping that timber will aid its post-pandemic economic recovery while also reducing its carbon footprint. Premier John Horgan has announced that the province is exploring how to use more mass timber (essentially a stronger, construction-grade form of timber) in buildings and find new markets for the locally sourced product. Using mass timber instead of concrete can vastly speed up the construction of buildings due to some elements being prefabricated off-site and is cheaper because of reduced labour costs. It offers a lifeline to BC’s forestry sector too: wildfires and mountain-pine-beetle infestations have reduced the amount of harvestable timber in recent years. According to experts, the sector needs to shift its focus to producing engineered woods that offer five times more value than traditional timber. An added incentive: a recent change to Canada’s building code now allows for the construction of mass-timber buildings more than 12 storeys high. That could help it make a dent in BC’s housing shortages too.

Fashion / Global

Show stopping

The fashion world is rethinking its modi operandi. In recent weeks, independent brands have signed open letters announcing their intentions to produce fewer collections, while Gucci has stated that it will only stage two seasonless shows per year (instead of the usual four or more). For others, though, the show will go on much like before: Dior has just announced that it will present the runway show for its cruise collection (a commercial, mid-season range sometimes known as “resort”) in July in Puglia – but without an audience. Going forwards, every company will have to figure out what makes the most sense on its own terms. Physical shows won’t disappear because they are still the most effective way for labels to communicate their vision but in many instances the frequency and the size of the collections will change. Much of this will be dictated by consumer demand. Will customers now be more critical of brands producing too much stuff? Shoppers will decide with their wallets.

M24 / On Culture

Home

The AppleTV+ documentary series ‘Home’ visits unique properties around the world that have a sustainable or social remit. Robert Bound speaks to the series director, Doug Pray, and one of the featured designers, Christopher Brown, about what ‘home’ means.

Monocle Films / London

All around the table: deli dipping in London

Hanna Geller and Jeremy Coleman of Building Feasts take us on a tour around their favourite London food shops and pick up supplies on the way to put their effortless hosting skills into practice.

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