After COVID-19 came to stay!
This virus has changed the way we are currently living in India and a lot of other places in the world – in a lock-down. More – even after the lockdown, we are NOT going back to life as it was. For better or for worse, life on earth has changed – forever! There is no going back. And, hey, it’s not a doomsday declaration. I, for one, believe we could make a better quality of life for human beings and the rest of this living planet – if we choose to learn from COVID-19. Instead of worrying about the here and now, which a lot of people have to do anyway, let’s take a look at what comes after.
First things first. Let’s understand that COVID-19 will not go when the lock-down is lifted, gradually or otherwise. COVID-19 will stay, lurking in some person or another, hopefully, unknown to most of us, till we acquire the herd immunity we need to. This may take 2 years, based on recent experience. Even after a vaccine is developed, it will take a long time to administer it to all 1.3 billion Indians, growing at net 1% per annum – net. That means 13 million souls added each year – to be vaccinated and protected. That’s just this corner of the planet. What about elsewhere – from where it came in the first place?
Secondly, there could be more such viruses around the corner. SARS came in 2002 in China, spread worldwide and died down by 2004. MERS came in 2012, within 10 years from SARS, and was less virulent than SARS. COVID-19 has come with a 7 year gap. It is more virulent than the previous two combined. COVID-19 is a Black Swan event. The next pandemic, which could occur within the coming 3-6 years, will not be one. China was where 2 of the last 3 pandemics began. It may well be the source of the next.
Third, we are likely to see a lot of change in global economic activity. The steps that China, the US and India took last quarter, and what they and others will do through the rest of 2020, will be one key guiding factor. I’ve clubbed them into three broad categories below:
- Globalisation of supply chains will ebb: at least in those goods and services that nations see as critical to national survival and security. New risk metrics will include country vulnerability. Geography-based or ‘friendly-nation-based’ supply chains may replace global supply chains
- Economies or contiguous economic blocks that can generate both demand and supply will likely emerge – SAARC, ASEAN, China+Mongolia, Russia, Former USSR Members, Eastern Europe, European Union, Northern Africa, Middle East (including Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan), Africa composed of 3 or 4 blocks, NAFTA, South America in 1 or 2 blocks – composing some 15-18 blocks rather than the 190 nations we see in the United Nations today. This should happen by 2030. No single economy or block will be able to impact the world – as is happening today. Duty and other trade variables will be sought to be equalized intra- and inter-block. WTO is already collapsing into something like this, and the process will accelerate.
- Energy, water, food will become strategic national issues to be taken care of within national economies or at most the afore-mentioned blocks
- Dependence will reduce on fossil fuels or natural resources that are alien to a geography – this will happen faster than imagined so far
- Appreciation of natural resources available within the concerned geography will increase and with it will come an improvement in the environment
- Ownership of corporations may become restricted to national or block entities – with a reduced percentage of ownership permitted outside these boundaries
- Global administration of Health and Security could become far more real and necessary than ever before in human history minimizing and later eliminating small intra-block and then inter-block battles and wars
- Health rather than illness will become the focus of government activity and budgeting over the medium and long-term while medical data tracking will become the short run goal for the coming couple of years
- Urbanisation, space utilization and Public Transport will undergo dramatic change: office-space, physical meetings, travel (shared mobility) will all be less attractive and will reduce
- Resultantly, Personal Mobility will become low cost, easy and environmentally friendly – supporting infrastructure and industry will emerge
- Spectator sport and mass entertainment will move from gathering crowds to providing personalized pleasure – computer & video gaming especially the MMOGs will acquire greater acceptance
- Government (legislatures and executive) and judiciary will rapidly change – much less human intervention & interactions, and far more IT dependence will become the norm
- Education will be much less dependent on physical infrastructure, distance education from school to doctoral will become the norm, with student gatherings becoming infrequent and purposed
- Organised religions that require congregation of people, will face their most serious existential challenge – even more than the Catholic church faced during the Renaissance – and will change significantly, if they are to survive
- Politics too will have to find new ways to organize congregations of the faithful
- The press is already moving from paper to electronic media, the next few years will complete the transformation – paper will become historical oddity
- Manufacturing/ Industrial organisations may at best remain intra-block, truly global organisations may become things of the past – only intellectual activity-based businesses may remain potentially inter-block
- Buggy-whip or copier like change will occur in several industries – small and big – tobacco & related products, fossil-fuel engines and automobiles, etc
- Digital transformation will become a basic business building block – business will become more digital and less person-dependent wherever possible – process automation and robotics will become routine
- IT and communications industries will become key infrastructure utilities with their basic products becoming both low cost and ubiquitous – only where human intervention or curation are required will premium pricing be possible
- Secure and dependable Information-networks will become the basis for both private & public activity
- Both governments and businesses will focus on understanding Risk and developing methods for Risk Management, which will become a key component of any large enterprise
While we have stayed global in scale and 30,000 ft in height, in the next article we will become local to India, and 3-6 ft in height as we come to the individual. In the article after, I will discuss one ‘global/local’ activity – the judiciary.
(All the above images were taken on March 30th/31st, 2020 in Delhi by Mr Himanshu Jain)