The high street recovery, then, is already slowing rapidly, and that matters greatly in a consumer-led economy like ours. Even the spectacular internet boom is over. Online sales actually fell slightly between July and August, and in almost every retail sub-sector, the shape of the recovery isn’t a “V” but a so-called “square root” where growth spikes then quickly peters out before regaining all the lost ground.
That is mirrored by the broader economy. On its own, GDP growth of 6.6pc in August looks mightily impressive, but July’s growth was 8.7pc. Output, then, is not only not rebounding as fast as it fell, it is stalling.
The economy is still 12pc below its pre-Covid level and has in three months recovered half of what it lost in two months. Then there’s the outlook, heavy with gloom in every direction. Employment prospects are dire. Almost half of firms are set to slash jobs, according to a new survey by the CBI. Meanwhile, one in three companies plan to impose a pay freeze, compared to just one in 20 a year ago.
And forget all the hysteria about getting back to work. You could probably count the number of big companies willing to get behind any campaign to encourage staff back into the office on one hand, not that there ever was a proper one anyway.
Even the Bank of England, having excitedly talked up the prospects of a swift recovery, is now beginning to waver, warning on Thursday that a resurgence of cases threatens the recovery. There is even cautious talk again of unleashing negative interest rates.
Meanwhile, for all the Health Secretary’s attempts to play down a second lockdown, it is clear that such a prospect looms large.
The health service is preparing for a new coronavirus storm in the next fortnight after a steep rise in infections. And the test and trace system, in the hands of the utterly inept Dido Harding, is on the verge of collapse, if it hasn’t done so already.