By Sana Bagersh
As the coronavirus pandemic escalates, engulfing more and more countries, it will continue to profoundly impact the global economy; from manufacturing and supply chains, to airlines and hospitality, to oil prices and the stock market…
While we cannot escape the doom and gloom scenarios, with the impending losses in life, here I offer my two cents on the possible upsides of this global crisis. These will be the many corrections that will inevitably result from our scramble to contain the outbreak. These will be the risk mitigation safeguards that will define how we carry on as inhabitants of this planet. While we may disagree on how to move forward, we will need to accept the fact that this will not be the last virus of its kind to plague us, and more importantly, that we will need to be far better prepared for the next one.
First, let’s look at the current crisis and how to cope. The answer lies (in more ways than one) in China, which is thankfully beginning to put its economy back on track. But what a response it staged – clamping down entire cities, rolling out massive testing, and…heck they even managed to build a quarantine building in days!
China, at the writing of this, is already announcing its defeat of the virus, but only time will tell, not only how China contained the crisis, but also bring to question the measures it should have taken, as originator of this virus, to protect its open food markets.
Without question this incident shows us how vulnerable our world really is, and how our interconnectedness can bring us prosperity, but also enough risk to hobble the global economy. Like it or not, this means that we – people, countries, governments – are all tightly married to each other, and as such are equally responsible for each other’s health and security. It also means that we should set political trivialties aside and truly collaborate to ensure the survivability of our species.
Now taking a longer view of this, let’s identify some positives:
- After this experiment we will have the definitive playbook to handle global pandemics – from reacting more systematically internationally with cross border protocols, to building rapid response solutions locally. There will be a greater need for knowledge banks to facilitate easier sharing of health risk mitigation guidelines and proactive preventative solutions. This should also facilitate the more rapid and seamless deployment of unified health messaging and high impact outreach.
- Our healthcare capacities are under attack; hospital procedures, protocols and staffing are being rigorously tested, and that’s a good thing. This will afford us better understanding of what is broken and what needs fixing. So far, the results are very revealing, showing how inadequate some of the world’s most celebrated healthcare cities are responding to the crisis, and how others, with far less means, are demonstrating exceptional containment mobilization. What this tells us is that rigid governance and well intentioned methodologies are too bureaucratic and no substitute for quick thinking and fact action.
Case in point is how South Korea provided the public with free diagnostics (including testing drive through booths), ramping up to 15,000 tests per day and canvassing the nation with 200,000 tests. By comparison, (according to the New York Times at the writing of this), the venerable CDC in the US reports that only 8,500 specimen nose swabs have been taken in the whole country since the beginning of the outbreak — a figure that is actually larger than the number of people tested since a single person can undergo multiple test swabbing! So many questions here, and so few answers…
- An unexpected, and most welcome outcome of the Coronavirus outbreak is the sizeable dent we are making on our global carbon footprint. This is as a result of the inadvertent reduction, albeit temporary, in commuting and flying; the impact of social distancing and working from home; and of course the big hit on manufacturing and supply chains which are resulting in lowered carbon emissions.
- Many countries are mere novices in the largely untapped realm of remote work, the growing gig economy, and telecommuting. This crisis is upending productivity and business continuity, and impacting service and product delivery across sectors. These challenges will compel us to build robust next-generation continuity programs across both government and private sectors.
Ideally, it should usher with it a new science in human productivity, revealing both challenges and infinite possibilities, where we will be better at determining how we function as human beings, how to enable work, how to motivate people and how to create collaborative frameworks.
For many countries not yet familiar with telecommuting, it will be a new challenge in building capacities, training leadership, equipping managers, and managing staff. We will now, more than ever, look to all those digital solutions that promise they will empower us, and we will be compelled, out of necessity, to speed up the adoption of digital transformation strategies.
- Education will also undergo its most radical transformation. We have already been witnessing the disruption of traditional models, but now the understanding and adoption of digital learning will become even more urgent and compelling. Continuing online education has already been increasing over the last few years with more universities migrating entire programmes online, but the new challenges, and many learnings, will be in junior and high school education, where young people will have to adapt to new paradigms for blended learning. Even if these changes do not happen all at once, governments worldwide will see the repercussions of the Coronavirus as a wakeup call to have a plan b in place.
- The social impact of this virus may be in the way we manage our gatherings; which ones to keep, how else we can pow-wow, how we move, and how relate to each other within our social environments. Maybe it will make us more conscientious consumers; more mindful of what we use, how we discard, and how to become more resourceful and less wasteful. Hopefully physical human interactions will continue, with mass events becoming more safe, and micro gatherings becoming more frequent.
- Most exciting of all is how we leverage the unquenchable human spirit of innovation. Here we can offer innovative startups the newly emerging challenges to solve. New technologies will present abundant possibilities, from AI solutions that are able to rapidly develop vaccines for mutating viral threats, to more efficient solutions that will make us more connected, productive and fulfilled.
Who knows, maybe the Coronavirus will bring the kind of transformational disruption that will save us from ourselves and make use more responsible stewards of the planet. It may even push us towards innovating brand new digitally empowered communities, that offer greater connectedness, identity and purpose; coupled with business models that present more freedom for people to nurture families, and achieve true work-life balance.