A YEAR ago I led a Glasgow business delegation to the cities of Shanghai and Hangzhou, home of the world’s largest e-commerce retailer Alibaba, to deepen the ties we have with two of China’s largest conurbations.

Perhaps the most cheerful night was spent with around 400 guests at the 2019 St Andrew’s Ball hosted by British Chambers of Commerce Shanghai in a large hotel in the Pudong financial district.

We left Shanghai in early December and less than a month later the World Health Organization picked up the first reports coming out of Wuhan of Covid-19. It would be hard to deny that the world since has since profoundly changed. Except one thing has not – our friends at British Chambers of Commerce Shanghai are hosting their 2020 Ball with a bigger attendance in a large hotel in Pudong. Demand is more more than they can accommodate.

Is it unfair to ask how our colleagues in China have so successfully returned their economy to near normality whilst throughout Europe and the United States we clearly have not?

The news on Monday of the Pfizer vaccine success may well be the best we have had since the virus emerged and I truly hope Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University, is right when he says we could be returning to normality by the spring. Nothing would make business leaders happier than the imminent prospect of reopening their operations and beginning the long journey to recovery.

The consumption economy in retail, hospitality, sport, culture, travel and tourism has been badly damaged. So too have our great city centres. Debts accumulated by businesses will take years to repay, gaps in our high streets will need to be filled and international air connections need re-established.

If the vaccine arrives in time for a meaningful relaxation in the spring we may discover sooner than we had anticipated which of those endless forecasts about lifestyle behaviour changes were accurate and which were nonsense.

Will we work more from home or will the role of the office in creativity, social interaction and career progression re-establish itself? Is the demand for overseas holidays or for a night in a restaurant permanently reduced or will a latent desire burst into life once the last restriction has been lifted?

Despite Sir John’s optimism it is surely sensible to assume obstacles will appear and the vaccine’s introduction and distribution may not happen as fast as has been suggested. It is important to keep on working on contingency plans that can marry virus control with fewer constraints on the economy.

Mass testing is one missing element that is prominent in China and which industry leaders in aviation, sports, major events and hospitality have been urging our governments to explore. Public health officials do not on the whole seem enthusiastic because of test reliability but it clearly does play a role in Asian countries. Perhaps the current experiment in Liverpool will help decide that argument.

The most optimistic forecast for deploying a successful vaccine appears to be the spring. For others it could be later next year, and the consumption economy cannot survive another six months of recurring lockdowns, even with the extended job retention scheme. Rents, insurances, leases, bank loans and other trade creditors still need to be paid. We need to see what mass testing can achieve just in case.

However, we have been relying on a vaccine to end this crisis, and it does seem like a moment to cheer. I hope I can confidently plan a trip to Shanghai to attend the 2021 St Andrew’s Ball.

Stuart Patrick is chief executive of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce