Why Essential Services Vary From Place to Place

By Ben Hamill - April 03 2020

Why Essential Services Vary From Place to Place

The global Coronavirus pandemic has bestowed upon the world what certainly feels like a whole new vocabulary. We’re each day confronted with terms like flattening the curve, social distance and the concept of essential services. And whilst there exists a general consensus what it means to engage in social distancing in order to flatten the curve, i.e. slow the spread of the deadly virus, when it comes to defining exactly what “essential services” refer to, the meaning seems to differ depending on country; region even.

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There appears to be a general agreement that essential services relate to the work performed by those working in medical health care, law enforcement, food production, general utilities and telecommunications. Some descriptions of those activities exempt from regional rules of lockdown do however differ and appear to very much reflect a particular national identity, depending on where exactly one finds one’s self in the world.

Culture, interestingly enough, seems to play a significant role.

Britain Vs The U.S.

The Brits, for example, initially did not add alcohol to their list of essentials. But the minute British supermarkets started to run out of booze, liquor was quickly reinstated as an essential by the British government. And in the U.S.; and this varies from one state to the next; golf, guns and marijuana are considered essential services. Needless to say, this particular list sparked quite the reaction on social media.

The U.S. as well as India are emphasising information technology services as being absolutely essential. And for perfectly good reason too. The internet is currently playing a leading role in not only communication and slowing the spread of the coronavirus, but also in helping to keep us sane and free from developing the dreaded cabin fever. We (and by this we mean the entire world) are streaming more movies, checking in more often on social media and online news sites, and playing more games online than ever before.

Italy: Food And Medicine Only

Interesting to note is what those countries most affected by the pandemic regard as essential services, as opposed to those not yet affected, or at least not as badly affected. Italy, a country until recently regarded the new epicenter of the Coronavirus, regard only those business and food shops that folks absolutely need in order to physically and mentally survive, as performing essential services. In Italy, this basically means food shops, pharmacies and the internet.

Britain, by contrast, initially allowed restaurants to remain open. But now that the pandemic has become more pressing at home, government has ordered all eateries to temporarily close their doors for in-house trade. Only carry-out meals are now permitted. Israel, seemingly in a world all on its own, has its focus on people being free to continue living religious life. Outdoor prayer gatherings are therefore permitted in the country, on condition that no more than 10 worshippers convene at any given time.

The differences in approach to what exactly qualifies as an essential service is a clear reflection of how in times of immense crisis, our cultural identities become small beacons of comfort and of security.

And that’s very much essential to our survival too.

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