What will Life be like after this Covid-19 Crises?
It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future. – Mark Twain
9-11. Covid-19. Connect the dots….
Right now, like Sept.11, we are only reacting to the moment. Some of us are in panic mode. Some of us are just in shock. All of us are not quite believing what is unfolding in front of us. What we didn’t realize back in 9-11 is that the way we travel and behave would change forever. Those of us old enough know now the world is a different place now than before 9-11. For one thing, there is more fear ‘in the air’. I am going to go out on a limb and make a prediction: the impact of Covid-19 will be similar in this way: the way we live will be completely and permanently different because of it. How will be it be different? Here are some guesses.
- Covid-19 will become yet another annual flu
“How do we go forward with the burden of COVID-19, a disease that could recur annually like the seasonal flu but kill perhaps 100 times more people? How do we deal with a disease that is dangerous to older people but much less so to younger people, who can be carriers of the disease? What is the trade off between efforts to contain the disease, which Professor Lipsitch and others argue are futile, and allowing continued economic activity, freedom of movement and association, and freedom from frequent, mandatory blood testing and quarantines? Shutting down national economies and suspending civil liberties is another form of widespread suffering.” https://www.forbes.com/sites/toddhixon/2020/03/12/get-ready-to-live-with-covid-19/#2e4a22244782
The chances of eradicating Covid-19 are zero. We can’t kill viruses – especially one this easy to transmit. It’s like a pop-up game with groundhogs – you wack one down and another pops up. So we are going to have to live with it. Of course, it will mutate and in all probability eventually adapt to its new human host and decrease in virulence. In the meantime, older people will continue to die earlier because of it and there is probably not much we can do about it. Do you honestly think we can enforce a permanent lock down? It is impossible. Thus, we will simply adapt to this new reality as best we can.
“The emerging consensus among epidemiologists is that the most likely outcome of this outbreak is a new seasonal disease—a fifth “endemic” coronavirus. With the other four, people are not known to develop long-lasting immunity. If this one follows suit, and if the disease continues to be as severe as it is now, “cold and flu season” could become “cold and flu and COVID-19 season.” Harvard epidemiology professor Marc Lipsitch
Sitting 1m apart at Press Conference in Singapore
“Polite” Social distancing will change
The distance we stand from each other may permanently increase, shaking hands might not be normal, tele-conferences will increase in frequency, working more from home and taking University courses on-line may become much more common. Drinking wine in Church from a common chalice may become a thing of the past. While I do not know exactly how things will change, I am confident that they will – and in a significant way. This is likely to become a long term mental health issue as social isolation and loneliness are already endemic and causing a lot of suffering and reduced quality of life.
Travel restrictions, Testing at Borders & Quarantines Become the New Normal
Given that this virus will probably continue to circulate worldwide it will be sensible to reduce the risk of re-infection – knowing that completely stopping it’s spread is impossible. If countries do not have widespread community spread they may test everybody who enters the country and ban travel from certain countries. Certainly this would play well to the policies of certain countries who like to blame globalization for their problems: it will be an easy sell. Just like refugees are no longer popular a stressed population will accept restrictions on movements if they think it will make them safer.
International Supply Chains Will Change
Right now we have a ‘just in time” system of supply that often involves China. Here is what is happening to this system in the USA right now.
Manufacturers in China report operating at 50% capacity with 56% of normal staff.
44% of respondents said they did not have a plan in place to address supply disruption from China.
62% of respondents are experiencing delays in receiving orders from China
Products from major American companies including Apple, GM, Coca-Cola and even Facebook may soon become unavailable, as the fallout from the COVID-19 outbreak backs up and shuts down global supply chains. Consumers should brace themselves for products to go missing in the coming weeks and months — and it may not be the ones they expect. https://www.axios.com/coronavirus-supply-chains-china-46d82a0f-9f52-4229-840a-936822ddef41.html
All we can be sure of is this ‘test’ will mean the supply chain will have to change. We are extremely vulnerable to interruptions and it will have to become more robust. What this means I leave up to the experts but it is a bigger deal than most people think. The war metaphor is helpful: in the long term the army that can continue to supply its troops with material, energy and food wins. This was one of the main reasons why Germany lost both wars – they ran out of food, diesel fuel, metal, tanks, planes – we don’t want to same thing to happen to us.
Countries will look more to China as the example to copy for ‘cultural normative behaviour’
If the USA has a much higher death rate then China, and if it takes much longer to ‘conquer’ this virus than in China -with the resultant increasing negative economic impact, and if the lack of a public safety and public health care system are clearly incapable of rising to this challenge, the power of American culture to set the cultural norm for world culture will decrease. In many ways this is a test. Life is like that, we are tested from time to time to see whether still have our ‘edge’. Some of fail these stress tests at a personal level and sometimes entire countries fail. I am guessing that some countries will have a very low death rate [Singapore] while other will have a very high rate [USA?]. Once the dust settles leaders and populations everywhere will look and see who did the best job and think to themselves: “Let’s follow the social model of the countries who most successfully reacted to this virus.” Only time will tell who that will be.
The Cruise Industry will Adapt
The cruise industry may be temporarily dead, but it is too popular and too large to die, just yet. It will adapt and find ways to be ‘safe’. Personally, I would never go on a cruise – but that is because my wife and I are slightly claustrophobic. Right now are in a state of fear but it cannot be sustained – life will go on, it will just be different.
“Mitigating risks may involve: (a) use of ultraviolet technologies; (b) mandatory use of hand sanitizer (many passengers currently “opt-out”); (c) modifying onboard activities and dining arrangements; (d) alerting passengers beforehand as to mandatory safeguards; and (e) other enhanced measures recently proposed by CLIA.” https://www.staradvertiser.com/2020/03/12/editorial/island-voices/column-cruise-ships-can-adapt-to-covid-19-health-threat/
Like 9-11, this ‘surprise’ is not really a surprise – it was an accident waiting to happen. As a matter of fact, the death rate from this virus, unless you are over 80 or suffer severely from some other medical condition, is quite low – although at least 10x more than the normal flu overall. What is does do is test the resilience of each countries medical systems and test the degree of social cooperation – both of which are essential to reduce the death rate. Evidence from China shows that firm Government action AND a population that is willing to change behaviour [social distancing, quarantine] are necessary to reduce the death rate. The bottom line is this – life will go on, but WITH the covid-19 virus as part of our new reality. Travel, business supply chain, social behaviour will all change – but life is all about change. Those countries that can best adapt and have the best ability to make tough but intelligent decisions for the good of the public good will come out as winners. Those who either pretend this is not such big deal [or a conspiracy] or over-react out of fear instead of good science and good policy will lose. Quite frankly, I think the economic damage and pain will be larger than the pain from the virus. Sorry if this is harsh, but people suffered and died in the Great Depression without a health crises because a wrecked economy is also a health crises because people lose hope.
A final note. Last night I was at a restaurant with my wife. I was impressed that everybody sat at alternate table so they were over 1m apart. Later, we went to the hospital for a test and it was deserted. When we asked a Nurse told us people had mostly stopped visiting patients. Well done Canadians. It seems that when people are given rational explanations for changes they need to make for their safety they do react rationally and for the common good. The rational responses needed seem to be working in Canada because we have a social system to care of people – like extra employment insurance announced by the Prime Minister today – that give people trust in the system. Let’s hope that Canada is a winner. I think we will be.