The black plague that ravaged the medieval world created a butterfly effect of far reaching impacts.
Europe, for example, went through a wool shortage due to the number of sheep that were felled by the terrible calamity.
There was also a decrease in faith “both because of the death of so many of the clergy and because of the failure of prayer to prevent sickness and death”.
While we are still in the full throes of dealing with the global Covid-19 pandemic, it is not too early to prognosticate a few impacts.
Some may seem far-fetched while others are a near-certainty.
The breadth and depth of impacts will be correlated to the duration and impact of the pandemic in the ‘developed’ world.
A 9/11 in the US resulted in the longest war in the history of the country, with a host of impacts including the overthrow of several authoritarian governments in the middle east.
On the other hand, decades of Islamic terrorism in India and other countries has not seen such a reaction.
The Covid-19 crisis may fall into the earlier bucket due to the emerging reality that the US will bear a significant brunt of the fallout.
The potential impacts are categorised but some bleed into multiple buckets. They are also listed within each category in order of most likely/near term to less probable/longer term.
– The most obvious change will be the increasing digitisation of the entire healthcare system. Emerging economies such as India have a golden opportunity to build a new healthcare ecosystem of non-urgent care through remote monitoring of key vitals, combined with artificial intelligence powered clinical insights. Telemedicine can fill the gaps for clinical visits especially in remote areas, and robotic surgery centres may be set up in rural or other areas with low penetration of healthcare services. Privacy concerns around healthcare data will move to the background and consumer trust based on blockchain and other emergent technologies will move to the forefront.
– Greater transparency in the cost of medical procedures. This is much more of an issue in the US but the future will see governments across the globe take additional steps in price setting and controls.
– There will be an emergence of ‘digital selves’ that combine a variety of datasets including individual genetics, lifestyle, real time trackers, and even spending habits to provide a complete view of current health and predictions of potential disease states. This will lead to earlier interventions and a ‘carrot and stick’ digital approach to proactive disease avoidance or delay, as opposed to chronic condition management.
Government and Policy
– The impacts will differ across the globe but in general, there will be a pulling back on global free trade. Depending on the depth and length of the crisis, there could be a pincer effect on China as countries look to diversify supply chains and support 3-d printing based localised manufacturing. China’s position as the factory of the world will come under a real threat.
– Governments will look at Healthcare as a key aspect of defence and responses will include putting plans in place to maintain supply chains and be self-sufficient in a crisis for common medications and medical equipment.
– By 2030, at least one large democratic country can be expected to implement some version of biometric voting. This implications of such a move will be far ranging especially in countries that currently have lower voter participation rates.
Travel and retail
– Increasing broadband speeds and digitisation will lead to the use the VR based shopping, as well as the use of devices such as floating keyboards in brick and mortar stores. These devices will not require a physical touch to make digital payments or enter data.
– This may start off as health certificates for infectious diseases prior to international travel but eventually turn into near instant blood prick-based tests at the airport for key conditions.
Personal and Religious
– There will be a ramp-up in taking up of hobbies such as gardening, cooking, and basic furniture making. Aided by technology, there may also be an interest in learning basic medical skills. The upper and rich class will invest in contingency planning such as maintaining secluded safe spots, while the middle class may devise plans for self-sufficiency within their communities.
– Gun ownership or interest in martial arts will increase as self-defence will be seen as a basic need.
– A decrease in consumerism and increase in spirituality and a questioning of the higher truths. Dogmatic religions will face challenges in answering questions about spiritual matters that transcend simple explanations of belief and disbelief.
– The trends towards vegetarianism and veganism will accelerate as there will be greater scientific and spiritual understanding of the harm being caused by the exploitation of animals. The technological advances of the twentieth century rendered most farm animals unnecessary. Similarly, the technological advances of today’s age, e.g. lab created meat, and the intellectual and spiritual advancements of understanding man’s relationship with the environment and animals, may lead to greater regulation and eventual ban of most farm raised meat. This is the most speculative of all the predictions but the early signs towards it are unmistakable. The current pandemic will only quicken the pace.
Every crisis affords humanity an opportunity to take a fork in the road. The black plague loosened the grip of the church over the citizenry and became a contributing factor to the eventual Reformation that took place in Europe in the middle ages. The foundation of the modern secular and democratic state can be traced back to the upheaval caused by ‘the black death’. We may look back on the Covid-19 crisis similarly in the years to come.