Tuesday. 22/9/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Megan Gibson

Straight, no chaser

The news wasn’t good. During a televised address yesterday morning, the UK’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, and chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance (pictured, on right, with Whitty), presented slide after slide of dire figures. Cases of Covid-19 are doubling in the UK every seven days and if no action is taken, we could be seeing as many as 50,000 new cases a day by mid-October and 200 deaths a day by mid-November. All in all, they said, the UK is facing a very difficult six months. It was a sobering affair.

But then came the really alarming part. After the scientists’ presentation, no government minister appeared to answer questions or to outline a plan of action. No clarity was offered about what was being done to prevent such an outcome or what measures might be enforced in the coming days, weeks or months. Instead, Downing Street revealed that Boris Johnson would be chairing a crisis meeting today, which prompted plenty of foreboding speculation that another lockdown was at least possible – if not imminent.

Once again the UK government has left the country in a state of limbo. Business owners don’t know whether they’ll be asked to shut their doors; parents can’t be certain that they won’t need to restart home-schooling; families don’t know if they’ll be prevented from seeing one another again. Why roll out the experts to share grim statistics without also offering a clear and reassuring plan of action? Such lack of preparation might have been excusable in March but this pandemic has been with us for months now and will remain a part of our lives for a long while yet. Though no one wants hasty decisions to be made, it’s hard not to feel frustrated by the unnecessary theatrics of the UK government’s approach.

Transport / Europe

Sleeper hit

Kraftwerk might not be making a comeback but the train that inspired the electronic music pioneers’ 1977 album looks set to do so. The legendary Trans-Europe Express linked 130 cities across the continent and was known for its stylishly appointed carriages, which, until its last ride in 1987, hurtled from Copenhagen to Italy’s southernmost tip. At an EU virtual summit yesterday, Germany’s transport minister Andreas Scheuer sought funding for its relaunch as a high-speed overnight service, which could be completed by 2025 “if we start now,” he said. Not only would the creation of a Trans-Europe Express 2.0 create thousands of jobs to bolster the union’s post-pandemic economic recovery, it would also be a vital step towards meeting Europe’s ambitious Green Deal targets. Unless the EU commits to the kind of large-scale projects that will make train travel a viable alternative to flying, a reduction of transport emissions by 90 per cent by 2050 remains about as far-fetched as Kraftwerk’s wildest excesses.

Diplomacy / UN

Meeting of minds

Speeches by 170 world leaders at the annual United Nations General Assembly in New York begin today but unlike past years, the addresses will be given via video link. The lack of a physical presence, while necessary given the ongoing pandemic, highlights the tremendous challenges that diplomacy has faced this year; multilateralism and negotiations are eased when people can meet in person and develop relationships.

Take just one example: the annual UN summit helped to consolidate talks that led to the 2015 nuclear deal between the US and Iran. And, despite New Yorkers famously complaining about the two-week gridlock that the gathering inflicts on city streets, local businesses will struggle to replace the revenue that comes from backroom restaurant meetings between world leaders and their ministers. The UN summit has been derided by many as an ineffective talking shop; perhaps a year without it will remind world leaders and the host city of its enduring relevance.

Urbanism / Taiwan

Step change

Government officials in Taiwan are discussing the rollout of a possible nationwide ban on parking motorcycles on footpaths. Transportation minister Lin Chia-lung, a former mayor, says that the provision of alternative parking for motorcycles is key to the plan’s success – and its enforcement. The proposal, which is currently under a 60-day public review, is arguably an overdue step to protect pedestrians but it raises the question: where can Taiwanese cities find room for two-wheelers to pull up instead? The dilemma is one facing many countries as a proliferation of alternative transport options – mopeds, bicycles, e-scooters – blur the lines between roads and pavements in our cities. Narrowing lanes – or removing some completely – to make room for parking is an option that could help Taiwan’s cities to become a little slower and more people-friendly. Motorcycles aside, that’s something that urban areas everywhere would be wise to consider.

Fashion / Italy

Nifty shades

Buyers in Florence had an opportunity to size up smart frames from more than 80 different brands at the three-day Date eyewear trade show. The event, which finished yesterday, is a precursor of sorts to Milan Fashion Week, which will proceed with a mix of online and in-person meetings from today. “Date is a moment to relaunch Italy and our exports in front of the public,” says Giovanni Vitaloni, the trade show’s president. From oversized shades to reading glasses, Italy is a leading player in the sector, exporting 90 per cent of its production and creating annual turnover of €4bn. With travel limited, most buyers came from nearby markets such as Germany, Austria, Switzerland and France. Among those that impressed was Rome-based LGR, which introduced its unisex Teos Bold frames in thick 13mm acetate with crystal-glass lenses. The brand is even betting on physical retail: it recently opened a Florence outpost, its third location in Italy. When it comes to eyewear, it pays to let customers see the merchandise up close.

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Eureka 215: Foodlogica

Using its carbon-neutral fleet of electric bicycles and vans, Foodlogica has been transforming the last mile of inner-city food delivery. Launched in 2016, the company has transformed from a small-scale experiment into a lucrative business across three countries by identifying a problem and solving it efficiently. This week, co-founder Francesca Miazzo explains how the idea came to her.

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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