More than one-fourth of the world’s population is in lockdown, as governments impose restrictions on movement to contain the coronavirus spread. These unprecedented measures are tearing the social fabric of some societies and disrupting many economies, resulting in increased unemployment and widespread hunger.
In many parts of the world, the spread of COVID-19 has filled hospitals and emptied public spaces. It has separated people from their friends, family, and colleagues. It has closed borders and shut airports, hotels, businesses, and schools. Indeed, modern society has been distorted in ways that we have never witnessed.
Global pandemics are typically accompanied with radical changes. The response of governments and societies to the coronavirus and its aftermath ultimately determine the consequences.
The question is, will we have transformed societies and a better future after COVID-19? Or will the political injustice get worse?
Although there’s a great deal of uncertainty, analysts contend that life will never be the same after the COVID-19 spread and the measures taken to contain it. The way in which we work, live, and worship will be permanently changed.
What does the post-pandemic world look like?
Income inequality is deeply ingrained in many advanced economies; will it increase as a result of the COVID-19 crisis? According to Miles Corak, an Economics professor, the pandemic is what truly reveals the widening gap between rich and poor.
Income inequalities are expected to widen, and blue-collar workers will be hardest-hit by social distancing measures. The sudden disruption in the economy and halted demands have decimated employment in industries like healthcare, leisure, hospitality, and foodservice. Unlike white-collar employees who are able to work from home, it’s not the case for workers such as cashiers, agricultural laborers, building security, maintenance, or post-office staff, and the list goes on.
The demand shock may prevent enterprises from overcoming the losses suffered during shutdowns, who will also probably suffer from diminished purchasing power from consumers upon reopening. This would result in a significant expansion of the savings glut of the rich. In other words, the savings of the rich will exceed investment.
Recent findings show that the savings glut has not been matched by investment in the United States. In fact, the excess savings are associated with the increase of household debt for lower-income households. Thus, there will be an uneven distribution of eventual economic recovery due to the lack of investment and increased household debts.
The COVID-19 pandemic will be followed by an inevitable secondary mental health pandemic. People are being restricted to their homes in a time of utter fear and uncertainty where social rituals are dangerous.
People who suffer from mental disorders, such as anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder, are struggling. Perhaps being confined at home may result in a deepened loneliness in the elderly who are excluded from public life.
Asians may continue to receive hurtful racist comments, fueled by a president who insists on labeling the new coronavirus the “Chinese virus.” Women and children may find themselves trapped in their own homes as domestic violence and child abuse becomes the new norm. Also, the COVID-19 pandemic is a collective trauma event that everyone is living through. It’s going to take people some time to resolve the emotional, financial, and educational fallout.
Andrew Keen expects governments to resort to surveillance more often in the future. While surveillance may help track clusters of the virus, it could threaten to compromise individual freedom and privacy. It’s not only about our inability to hide from the camera but also determining our sociopolitical rights.
Assistant professor of Security studies Andreas Krieg, predicts that we will probably be seeing a digitalization of all services after the pandemic, including public services. As a result, a remote relationship between the community and the state will be established, in which states begin to expand their control over civil society and private life. Amid the pandemic, people will have to give up their fundamental civil liberties in return for security.
Mohd Faizal Musa, a research fellow at the National University of Malaysia, projects that religious values embedded in rituals will be considerably reduced and disrupted in the future.
Musa adds that the lack of human touch and sacred ambiance offered by rituals and holy sites puts the essence of religion, symbolized by rituals, at danger. Proper engagement in group rituals ensures a spiritual experience. Even after the pandemic ends, ritual practices will be practiced with caution and restrictions on sanitation and social contact. For that reason, religion will never be the same.
Building a Better Future
Despite all the shortcomings, pandemics can still catalyze social change. People, businesses, and institutes have been quick to adopt or call for practices that none have probably considered before.
Habits and Values
Pete Lunn, head of the Behavioral Research Unit at the Economic and Social Research Institute, suspects that the pandemic will be remembered by many as a time of drastic changes.
Our daily lives are built around habits that allow us to work effectively, care for our families, and pursue our goals. Once you give that system a shock, new patterns begin to form shortly after. It could be related to work, travel, daily routines, eating habits, or communication strategies.
Not only do our habits change, but also our values. People are more likely to generate stronger ties, mainly because the benefits of collective action may result in a greater sense of belonging.
Delivery Of Primary Healthcare
Vin Gupta, an affiliate assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine, believes it’s been a century since we last faced a public health emergency of this degree. Thus, people will call for action and use the pandemic to demand universal healthcare.
Gupta also projects that the delivery of primary health care will be revolutionized with digital technologies taking over. Telemedicine and home testing will probably become more prominent. This pandemic allows us to highlight what’s not working and also serving as a starting point to scale and innovate.
How Businesses are Adapting
The click-and-collect option has been offered by supermarkets and online retailers for years. An alternative for delivery or in-store collection, this method proves to be useful in COVID-19 times where contact is restricted. One of the largest DIY chains in the UK, B&Q, has adapted this method during the crisis, allowing customers to order online and pick up their items at a pre-destined time and location.
Parking Lots as Logistics Hubs
During the pandemic, parking lots have been used for testing and logistics purposes. Indeed, REEF Technology has been turning its 5000 parking lots into local testing sites and centralized delivery logistics hubs for essential goods and services. The company is considering turning these spaces into connected, on-demand, urban mobility hubs with micro-fulfillment centers that can be accessed through its parking app.
The Impact on Businesses
On a large-scale, the pandemic has had a significant impact on businesses. Indeed, business experts argue that the crisis could permanently change the way we work, shop, and manage businesses.
The Way We Work
The average workplace is already starting to look very different. Offices are becoming smaller, flexible spaces, or sections of co-working spaces in a far more distributed way.
The commercial real estate firm, Cushman & Wakefield, designed the “Six Feet Office”. According to a partner of the firm, the prototype aims to “to inspire people to think about solutions, on how to bring into play social distancing, how to prepare the building appropriately, and really to nudge people towards different behaviors”.
The Way We Shop
The future of retail looks promising.
The CEO of retail technologist Ubamarket, Will Broome, believes that the disruption that the crisis has caused has pinpointed shopping issues such as the constant change in layouts and confusion in locating items. The aim of Ubamarket app is to make supermarket shopping easier. With the help of Scan, Pay, Go, a customer can check availability of stocks from home and see how long the line-up is and then. Once the customer is in store, they can use the app to find their goods, scan and pay for them.
Amidst COVID-19, virtual stores became a thing. With the help of technology, bridging the gap between physical and virtual shopping worlds is possible. Indeed, IKEA launched its first virtual store with Chinese retailing giant Alibaba in an effort to blend these physical and virtual worlds to offer its customers a better online and offline shopping experience. IKEA acquired AI and AR start-up Geomagical Labs with the aim of enhancing digital shopping experiences.
The Way We Manage Our Businesses
The typical global supply chain does not really work in times of crisis. As noted by Knapp, a partner and managing director at Boston Consulting Group, supply chains are “designed to prioritize efficiency over flexibility and resilience,”. But over the last few months, “shortages of raw materials and critical supplies, together with the specter of increased worker absenteeism, have laid bare the underlying risks,” he added.
The tech giant firm IBM is expected to take over in the future, as they offer an AI-based supply chain management program. Indeed, this program has seen a significant increase in demand as more customers seek out predictive modeling against the next crisis.
We are living in extraordinary times. No one really knows what’s yet to come, as the post-pandemic world is uncertain. But there’s no doubt that our lives will be impacted on so many levels. Not only will our mental health be affected, but we will also see drastic changes in businesses, poverty rates, and healthcare.
Some of us may rightfully feel like things are broken beyond repair and the worst is yet to come, but let us remember that shortcomings are inevitable. We don’t know what is going to change, but we know change will happen. No matter what it is, we need to adapt to the new normal.
Let’s embrace the profound changes that may potentially provide us with a better future stemming from a reconstructed society.