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A week is a long time in virus control

20 March 2020

In his latest blog, ICE President Paul Sheffield looks at the fast-moving events over the last few weeks and what the coronavirus crisis means for our social fabric, the economy and our profession.

A week is a long time in virus control
ICE President Paul Sheffield

Who could have guessed at the start of the year that the world would be facing such a monumental challenge today - less than three months later.

The fast-moving events over the last few weeks shine a spotlight on the fragility of the social fabric of a modern economy. Our ability to go to work, earn money and spend it is taken completely for granted by most of us.

The ability of scientists to keep ahead of infection control, and of our hospitals to keep up with demand (even if only just in many cases) suppresses the destructive influence of viral infections and their ability to spread globally in hours.

The challenges we face today first surfaced in China at the very end of last year but came to the attention of the world in January when the first reported cases in Wuhan were publicised. International travel is seen as a right but we rarely get a glimpse of just how many people are in the air at any one time. Every day there are over 2000 transatlantic flights to the North America meaning that approximately 500,000 people make the trip every day.

Scientists are working hard to come up with an effective vaccine and successful tests have been carried out on animals. Human testing is the next stage and then mass production - so it is unlikely that we will see an available vaccine until 2021. That means we have to be prepared to fight this virus on our own for this year at least.

Whilst the virus is highly contagious - it would seem to be similar to ‘flu for the vast majority of people - but of course much more dangerous to those of a weaker disposition or with other medical conditions, mainly the elderly.

The Government's advisors have been very clear in their statements that we need to develop some form of “herd immunity” - in other words, alot of us need to catch and then recover from the virus for the population to be able to resist it in the long term.

Even if some parts of the world are able to isolate and eliminate the virus from a local community, there is always the likelihood of resurgence of Covid 19 once fresh contact is made at some point in the future. For those reasons we are likely to be fighting this for some time to come and governments across the world are prepared to dig deep in to their pockets to help people through this.

Our industry is probably not at the sharp end of the devastating impact Covid 19 is having on some such as airlines, retail, leisure and events. If governments continue to encourage people to go to work - even if working remotely where possible - then our projects should be able to progress, although supply lines and labour resources are likely to become stretched and operations will inevitably suffer somewhat.

This is a time for clear headed leadership and 'followership'. The businesses I am involved with are spending significant time planning for the next stages of this developing process. We have all “upped our game” when it comes to personal hygiene and ICE has put in place some exemplary policies that will help us all with social distancing whilst maintaining an ability to work effectively.

This next few months will be a real test of technology and our ability to become truly familiar with electronic communications and video conferencing to keep work channels alive. Of course there are many construction jobs that can’t 'work from home' and will rely on an army of people to get them to work and enable them to go about their activities safely.

I know that there will be many people who are worried about the future. Some have likened this to a 'war' which I think is completely wrong - it is nothing like it and we shouldn’t think of it in that way. We need to live our lives and keep the economy afloat by continuing to work and spend where we can - whilst at the same time respecting the safety of our more vulnerable members of the population - hence the need for our older relatives to be kept out of harm's way.

There will be many people who lose their jobs through this crisis and there will be many businesses that will struggle for survival so if you aren’t in that predicament then we must do something to help those less fortunate. Lots of our members and industry colleagues will catch and recover from this illness and will therefore help develop the herd immunity that scientists are looking for.

I am truly sad that many of the activities I had planned over the coming months to represent the ICE in so many forums across the country and of course through my regional visits - will need to be suspended. I do hope that this is a temporary situation and that we will be able to resume business as usual sometime over the summer but we have to follow and respect the advice we are given.

In the meantime please stay safe wishing you all good health.

  • Paul Sheffield, President 2019-2020 at ICE