…Christmas 2020 all over again. OK, maybe not that bad, but as Property Week went to press on Wednesday, Boris Johnson was due to announce the return of WFH and introduction of vaccine passports amid mounting fears of another festive lockdown.

Liz Hamson leader

Liz Hamson, editor

The same day, Property Week was hosting the Student Accommodation Conference, Showcase and Awards, our final large-scale, in-person (and online) event of the year, at InterContinental London – The 02. There was a real buzz at the conference and people were clearly delighted to be able to physically network and attend conference sessions, having not been able to last year.

As with our events last week, there were some no-shows at the conference and awards, but the mood was upbeat. People wanted to find out what lies ahead for one of the sectors that has been hardest hit by Covid – and could be laid low again – and to celebrate the sector’s many triumphs over adversity, perhaps even more so than usual given the prospect of another clampdown on mass gatherings.

Would they have turned up in such numbers had vaccine passports been required or proof of a negative test?

I reckon the answer in many cases would be ‘yes’. The relatively onerous requirements to attend this year’s Mapic in Cannes – vaccine passports, proof of a negative PCR or antigen test taken within 48 hours of travel, observance of social distancing protocols, mandatory face coverings and use of hand-sanitising stations – didn’t deter an estimated 4,000 from attending the international retail property jamboree. Granted, attendance was down on the 7,000 or so anticipated, but it was a significant turnout and testament to the determination of the property industry to keep going whatever is thrown in its path.

Of course, working from home again won’t make that any easier, but we’ve done it before and we’ll do it again, and as we went to press some were speculating that it would only be until mid-January, by which point most people will (hopefully) have had their boosters. The reality is that many people have continued to work from home anyway, for at least part of the week, so it shouldn’t be quite the shock to the system it was this time last year.

What would be a shock is if there was a wanton flouting of the rules of the sort seemingly demonstrated by Number 10 last year. There is a fine line between a relaxed and a reckless attitude to Covid restrictions that I suspect a fair few people crossed last Christmas and will cross again this year given the level of Covid restriction fatigue that has set in.

I hope they don’t. I also hope the industry takes careful note of the opprobrium being heaped on the government for its lack of transparency over the ‘illegal’ Downing Street Christmas party last December. It is certainly not above reproach on that score, as epitomised (again) by RICS, which like the government is coming under growing pressure to be more transparent, this time about a redacted chapter of the Levitt Review.

For the industry and government alike, the days are long gone when all you had to do to get away with bending or breaking the odd rule was ensure that you did so behind closed doors and there was no incriminating evidence. Just make sure there’s no cheese and wine at that Christmas par… business meeting.