This virus has changed the way we are currently living in India and a lot of other places in the world – in a lockdown. 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. It is not a doomsday declaration.
I, for one, believe we could create 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 us understand that Covid-19 will not go when the lockdown is lifted, gradually or otherwise. It will stay, lurking in some person or another, hopefully unknown to most of us, until we acquire the herd immunity we need to.
This may take two 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 cent per annum – net.
That means 13 million souls added each year – to be vaccinated and protected. That is 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 seven-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 next three-six years, will not be one. China was where two of the last three pandemics began. It may well be the source of the next.
Third, we are likely to see a lot of changes 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 have 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 are likely to emerge – South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), China+Mongolia, Russia, former USSR members, Eastern Europe, European Union, Northern Africa, Middle East (including Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan), Africa composed of three or four blocks, North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), South America in one or two 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 equalised intra- and inter-block. World Trade Organisation (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 aforementioned 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 companies 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 necessary than ever before in human history, minimising 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 utilisation 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 swiftly.
Spectator sport and mass entertainment will move from gathering crowds to providing personalised pleasure. Computer and video gaming, especially massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs), will acquire greater acceptance.
Government (legislatures and executive) and judiciary will rapidly change. There will be much less human intervention and interactions. 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 will have to find new ways to organise congregations of the faithful.
The press is already moving from paper to electronic media. The next few years will complete the transformation. Newspapers and magazines will become oddities.
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 – viz, tobacco and 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. Both 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 and curation are required will premium pricing be possible.
Secure and dependable information networks will become the basis for both private and public activity.
Both governments and businesses will focus on understanding risk and will develop methods for risk management, which will become a key component of any large enterprise.
While we have stayed global in scale and 30,000 feet in height, in the next essay, we will become local to India, and 3-6 feet in height as we come to the individual. In the third essay, I will discuss one ‘global/local’ activity – the judiciary.