COVID-19 Pandemic proved again how fragile and unprepared our healthcare systems and economies are, how much nations lack the proper coordination and preparedness to mitigate the impact of such outbreaks and how vulnerable we are collectively as humans.
In this short blog, I am going to share with you 5 key macro-level phenomena that has to be considered in order for us to have a different experience next time we are faced with a global-scale pandemic like this.
Globalization 4.0: It’s very hard to envision that we would or we could go back to the pre-globalization era. However, we need to redefine globalization and envision a brave new version that addresses the following three issues we see with the current one:
- Mass Air Travels: Can we sustain such high levels of air travel for either tourism or for business. Although the short-term economic benefits of tourism and business travels are undeniable, they make us prone to pandemics like this and we are realizing more than ever that so much of our trips and travels are actually “unnecessary”.
- Back-up Self-Sufficiency Plans: It’s lovely that we can manufacture goods in other parts of the world at a fraction of their costs. However, when and if those nations are affected by diseases or disasters, we would feel the pain big time! A contingency plan to sustain the manufacturing ability of almost all essential goods within our borders is going to be a key in surviving disruptive periods like this.
- Borders with Purpose: Imagining a borderless world is very inspiring; however, city borders, state borders and national borders can serve a purpose beyond immigration and administrative considerations. They can actually save lives at times like this. We seem to have lost the ability (or political will) to close our borders in a timely and effective manner. In the current pandemic, border closures either didn’t happen at all or happened too late for many countries and states. This is one of those critical concepts that needs to be revived without advocating for protectionism or separatism.
Personal Freedoms vs. Collective Safety: This is going to be a hot topic for many years to come. I am sure many people dreamed of having a Wuhan-style crackdown on Coronavirus, but we all know that in Western world (mostly Europe and Northern America) people would rather die than compromise their personal freedoms and petite liberties. I live in Southern California. There has been a relatively strict “stay at home” order in place for several weeks now, but still it came too late, like many other places, and it’s not being followed or enforced universally. It’s basically left to citizens to “do the right thing”. Meanwhile, other nations with a bit more totalitarian approaches were able to enforce a more strict protocol and overcome the epidemic much faster and more effectively. I don’t know what’s the right answer but in a few weeks when we might be in deep economic recession, we might realize that personal freedoms are a bit overrated at critical times like this!
Fast-Forwarding and Technology Accelerations: One of the most fascinating stories that I was following was the catapulting of some trends and technologies that are needed at a time like this. To name a few, virtual meeting and virtual learning platforms were already there and many people were already using them, but nothing like the novel Coronavirus could have accelerated their universal adoption across certain demographics that you would ever think are likely to convert to using them. Also, think about telemedicine/telehealth, same thing is happening there as well. Some hospitals had that capability, but now they are using it for everyone to avoid physical contact and unnecessary trips to the hospitals. On that note, let’s not forget that processes and regulations for vaccine development, drug development, rapid testing and medical device development (e.g. ventilators) are also going to be fundamentally revised, revamped and streamlined either as we speak or in the aftermath of the epidemic.
New Normals: How we define and experience living spaces, work and human relationships is unlikely to go back to pre-COVID era.
- As for work, a significant number of employees may never want to work from the office again (if their work allows that, of course). If they are working from home for 2-3 months and they are productive, why do they need to change that? Of course, more traditional employers are going to push their employees to go back to their offices for some time, but it won’t be the same.
- As for where we live, fundamental changes are in order too. We saw that denser metropolitan areas are harder hit and it’s more challenging for city dwellers to exercise social distancing as compared to people living in suburbs and less dense areas. We live in an area with walking access to the beach and a multitude of trails to walk and exercise, which proved to be such a wonderful natural anti-depressant and anxiolytic during our hard times. People will appreciate nature and its beauties and energy much more once we get past this Armageddon. And more people may choose to live closer to nature than in busy urban settings.
- And as for personal relationships and social interactions, do you think that people would ever go back to their firm handshakes, hugs and kisses? Maybe they do, in a few months or years. But be ready for more waving, more fist bumps and some borrowed greeting gestures from other cultures.
Neo-heroism: I would like to end by this fascinating development. I live in the United States, where heroes are considered an essential part of our society’s fabric. Half a century ago, those heroes were fictional characters for the most part. Two decades ago, they were embodied as first-responders when 9/11 happened. But now a much bigger segment of our societies (doctors, nurses, pharmacists and in general anyone working in healthcare sector plus our farmers, mailmen, couriers, Amazon depot workers, grocery store workers, waste management, clean water, gas and electric administrators and technicians) are all added to the category. They might be doing their jobs and are being compensated for it, but from a humanistic point of view, everyone is realizing how things could have been much worse, if these essential workers were not risking their lives and stayed home like we did.
In summary, the world post-COVID-19 is not going to be the same. Once we pass the immediate health, economic and social burden of this pandemic, we need a cocktail of macro-level changes at a global scale to ensure we do a better job next time round. Without that, our scattered lessons learned, social media posts and compassion-based actions are not going to be enough. Let’s embrace this future as it unfolds and be a proactive contributor as it’s shaped.