After a seven-week lockdown, the economy restarted on Monday with retail shops re-opening, construction resuming and public servants returning to work. It was not a full restart, with establishments where people might congregate such as cafes, bars and restaurants scheduled to open on May 21, when all restrictions on movement will be lifted.
While there was a marked increase in car traffic this could probably be attributed to people returning to work or going for a drive now – they are entitled to leave home three times per day – rather than any shopping expeditions. A Cyprus Mail reporter that visited the Nicosia town centre on Monday said the streets were empty, while shopkeepers he spoke to said they did not expect to do much business; some shops remained closed.
To be fair, one of the main attractions of the town centre, which was always popular with tourists, are its cafes and eateries that were heaving with people but are now closed. This illustrated the gradual lifting of the measures was a very limited restart that is still a long way from a return to normality and a properly functioning economy, which would change the public mood.
For a proper restart the public mood must change and there are currently too many factors preventing this from happening. Most importantly, there is great uncertainty, justifiably, about jobs and incomes. Nobody can say what will happen in the next four months – when will airports open, will tourists arrive this year, how many businesses will survive the crisis?
These are not conditions to stimulate spending that is essential for the so-called restart. It does not help that the authorities are fuelling the sense of uncertainty and people’s fears, by continuously warning that the lockdown will return, if people did not observe the self-protection measures. While this is aimed at preventing complacency and laxness, it also perpetuates the fear and public pessimism that eliminate any hints of optimism.
The government has failed to strike the right balance between keeping people safe on the one hand and conveying a little optimism on the other. There needs to be a more positive message from the government, one that lifts the gloom and inspires a little public confidence. We have, as country, done extremely well in restricting the spread of the virus and limiting the fatalities to an extremely low number.
There could be no better reason for a little optimism being conveyed to the public by our politicians, if the restart of the economy is going to be more than just a slogan.