Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 24 October 2020

My list of people to be grateful for includes those stocking the food shops

Waiting for customers at the Mina Zayed market. Vendors ahead of Ramadan have their safety measures in place, April 22. Victor Besa / The National
Waiting for customers at the Mina Zayed market. Vendors ahead of Ramadan have their safety measures in place, April 22. Victor Besa / The National

Many years ago, when I was a lad in the UK, I always looked forward eagerly to the annual performance by the East Grinstead Amateur Dramatic Society of a comic opera by the duo of WS Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan.

In the late 19th Century, they wrote 14 such operas, humorous, often absurd and with delightfully catchy tunes.

One of the most popular, The Mikado, featured a song in which a character called the Lord High Executioner spelt out a list of people and professions for whom and for which he had considerable distaste.

“I’ve got a little list,” he sang, “of society offenders who might well be underground and who never would be missed.”

The Executioner’s list is not relevant today. But since The Mikado was first performed in 1885 the list has been continually updated to suit its audiences.

I have no desire to be any kind of executioner, let alone a Lord High Executioner, but the song came to mind during a recent visit to the Mina Zayed fruit and vegetable market.

Ramadan dates salesmen wait for shoppers at the Abu Dhabi Dates Market at, Mina Zayed, Abu Dhabi, April 16. Victor Besa / The National
Ramadan dates salesmen wait for shoppers at the Abu Dhabi Dates Market at, Mina Zayed, Abu Dhabi, April 16. Victor Besa / The National

I was pondering how the local economy, as other economies around the world, might be affected in the long term by Covid-19 in terms of unemployment and the disappearance of some jobs.

Those in our health service, our police, along with others working tirelessly are the real heroes of today

Most of the salesmen and porters should be secure, I thought. But what about some other jobs? It is obvious that there is going to be a dramatic shake-out in some sectors as a new form of normality begins to emerge.

That made me think about those amongst us whose behaviour has a negative impact on efforts to tackle the crisis.

So I started to make a little list of those who might not be missed.

Earning an honoured place are those whose selfishness or ignorance of social distancing precautions means that they place others, besides themselves, at risk.

Also prominent on my list are those who have taken the opportunity to engage in price gouging, ramping up the cost of goods as they profit from demand driven by fear and desperation.

There are still companies who knowingly place their employees in danger by failing to introduce proper protective measures. They have a place on my list too.

Readers may have other nominations to add.

Looking ahead to when life begins to resemble what was formerly considered normal, I anticipate some major changes in our lives. Working from home, for many, is becoming the new normal. How will that affect staffing levels or the need for office space?

A teacher I know, trapped in the UK by the imposition of travel restrictions, is now teaching her Abu Dhabi classes online.

Her husband, of course, would like her to return but in terms of her work, does she really need to do so, at least on a permanent basis?

The shutdowns will simply drive some companies to the wall. Despite the laudable efforts by the government to protect business, which are the envy of many, not everyone can be saved.

After weeks of enforced closures and no income, businesses may struggle to re-open. It is a day to look forward to when restaurants regain their footfall and people crowd into malls and cinemas again, with all necessary precautions taken, of course.

Some losses will take a while to bounce back even as we have reason to believe that our important tourism industry will eventually recover.

What will happen to the many hairdressing salons? Likewise all of the little grocery shops? A few, I suspect, have struggled to survive at the best of times.

The Indian and Pakistani missions here have reported that a total of over 250,000 of their citizens have registered with them in the hope of getting help to go home.

Will others amongst our overseas communities call it a day once normal flights resume? It will be months, perhaps years, before the overall impact of the current crisis can be assessed.

In the meantime, however, I am starting work on a second little list, of those whose often undervalued contribution to society deserves not only our attention, but our thanks.

Those in our health services, for example, who place themselves in harm's way to protect us all. Those in essential service industries, keeping the food shops well stocked and selling us our daily needs. Our police, along with others working tirelessly to keep us all safe. These are the real heroes of today.

I hope that we will continue, long after this crisis is over, to recognise the value of the contribution to society that nurses, doctors, shop-workers, the police and many others are making.

Peter Hellyer is a consultant specialising in the UAE's history and culture

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Updated: May 6, 2020 07:18 PM

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