It is perhaps premature to think about COVID-19 and the future, about what the virus’ legacy might be. There are, however, several things that are already emerging that might be seen as positive.
The first is that we will be better prepared for future versions of COVID-19 in an environment where there is no vaccine. Next time, when COVID-21, say, arrives, the world will shut down immediately, the virus will run out of steam and we will start again quicker.
Bill Gates predicted viruses as the future of ‘war’ – and how we should prepare – five years’ ago in a TED Talk.
The second is that healthcare systems will be the heroes in this. Already this year we have called them out as the sector that is taking advantage of technology at a rate that should make us look to the future and be a little embarrassed. Already there are vaccines in early stages of testing. Just a few years ago a vaccine would still be years in the future.
Another is that it looks as if the technology sector will get a much needed boost as we all go online in our own environments. Games companies such as Tencent are posting good results, mainly driven by games. The reasonably tame nature of COVID-19 for most people means that online activity can continue – and continue to increase – without pause.
Self isolation can also provide an environment for great ideas and for people to do those things that they have been putting off or always wanted to do. As this video shows, boredom can lead to brilliant ideas.
A downside will be if the situation gets bad enough for stock markets to make liquidity a thing of the past. Although Governments are doing whatever they can to ensure the future does not include a recession, even a depression, until we get good solid news, lack of liquidity remains the major downside.
The outbreak also proves that, contrary to everything we believed six months ago, it is possible to stop the world. Although the economic impact of this may be catastrophic for some, news from China does seem to point to the effect being short lived.
The good news is that by stopping the world, we are making a difference to climate change indicators and this might just mean that ‘dreams’ of cutting carbon emissions in the future become more of a reality.
There are many jokes on social media about the positive effects of COVID-19 on climate change. One such has an executive walking into the office of the chairman of a global airline. The chairman looks stressed. The executive says “Sir, I have some great news”. The chairman says “anything, give me anything”. The executive says “Sir, we will be carbon neutral by the weekend”.
More seriously, carbon monoxide and dioxide levels over cities such as New York have halved in the last week or so and this will presumably continue for a month or so to come. The same has been reported across major cities in AsiaPacific, notably China.
There will be serious social change too. Humans are social creatures and we can hope that this COVID-19 enforced isolation will make us nicer people both online and off. Having limited access to friends and neighbours must mean that when we can see them we appreciate the experience more. Some, though, do not have our best interests at heart and are exploiting COVID-19 fears.
One scenario that might emerge is that we question just how much we were travelling before the virus stopped us and even ‘reset’ our requirements. This would make some of the targets for future climate change more achievable. This, though, may be a long shot, as past and current thinking is that you can only really do business face to face. But in future?
It is even possible that COVID-19 has a global ‘restore factory settings’ effect and that we end up with global economies back at 1980s levels (which is probably where they should be). From that starting point, economies should roar into action, driven by technology, while the world enjoys the carbon footprint of a small town in the foothills.
That sounds drastic and, for many, ‘the worst-case scenario’. But long term?
Whatever happens, let’s just hope we do not get back to ‘normal’ too soon and get COVID-19 rebounding on us at the end of the year.