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Lessons from the Covid-19 crisis for the economy & businesses

It goes without saying that COVID-19 lockdown has had an impact on every aspect of our economy and left many of us wondering what the world would look like in the future. Millions of businesses have been forced to either change the way they operate or go into temporary hibernation. Fundamental changes are expected, in the way businesses and economies reboot post this pandemic. Companies that already offered some levels of flexibility or remote working options to staff would have found it relatively easier to adjust but for those firms which are yet to leverage remote working platforms, the struggle to adapt to the whole business working from home while maintaining good levels of output and service is a real challenge.

We have never before attempted to shut down the global economy, much less reopen it in the setting of an ongoing pandemic and none of us know with any certainty the best action plans. Even well developed nations with strong initial responses like Hong Kong and Singapore have faced challenges after they reopened. Leaders across the public and private sectors are planning different approaches, as they need to be prepared to incorporate new information and modify their approaches, either incrementally or radically.

Hubei Province in China waited for cases to drop down to zero before reopening whereas Italy and Spain took the first steps to reopening with daily case counts over thousand. It would require significant number of dedicated resources to assure testing, contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine at the required scale but this cost would be trivial compared to the cost of global recession. Hence, every nation would need to find a balance between public health and economic imperative.

According to expert consensus, enhanced treatments for COVID-19 will likely be available by the end of 2020 and only 12 to 18 months will be required to launch a vaccine to the market at sufficient scale for widespread immunization, compared with the typical five or more years. The lessons of digital medicine applies to many more industries than healthcare delivery. The COVID-19 health crisis, has had a disruptive impact on the way people, cities, the world itself lives and moves, with mobility being one of the industries most affected by the outbreak. This article aims at exploring what lessons can be learnt from this crisis to improve our society and the functioning of our economic model.

1. Early warning system

This pandemic has clearly led to renewed calls for an early warning system, capable of predicting and hopefully mitigating the severity of future crises, whether from natural disasters, collapsing economy or pandemic. Early warning is a major element of disaster risk reduction as quick action can often prevent a hazard from turning into a human disaster by preventing the loss of life and reducing economic and material impacts. Policy makers across the globe need to call for strengthened collaboration and trust between nations to intensify our capabilities at designing a comprehensive warning system.

2. Why we need digitization

The entire global community is sailing through unchartered waters, as everyone from governments and companies to individuals has had to deal with the new reality. In these times, students across the globe require access to online learning tools and employers are investing in remote working tools, and processes for effective business continuity. These adversities demand immediate focus on the situation and concentrate on digitization, as it is the only solution to support and protect the economic ecosystem. All business leaders need to consider adapting to these changes instead of stubbornly sticking to a plan they have emotionally invested in.

Going by the trends of numerous successful startups post 2008 economic crisis, this crisis could drive innovation and we might end up with products adapted to the local dynamic needs. Many workers have managed to continue their jobs successfully with the help of digital technologies. Demand for video calling platforms such as Zoom and Google meet has risen drastically around the world since social-distancing measures came into effect. It is now anticipated that the increased use of technology during this time will change how we work in the future and the IT infrastructure of any business has a huge influence over if and how they will be able to go remote. While going digital, data security should be a primary consideration for any business and firms will need to bring all IT security practices up to date by investing in cyber security essentials. Flexible working is a key benefit for workers and offers businesses a way to grow sustainably. In short there’s never been a better time to get your business remote ready. To facilitate the transformation to this digital era, access to digital infrastructure should be seen as a utility, like electricity or plumbing.

3. Mental health matters

Many nations have asked people who have potentially contracted the infection to isolate themselves at home or in a dedicated quarantine facility. According to recent studies, isolation is correlated with negative psychological effects including post-traumatic stress symptoms, confusion, and anger. Fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and can cause strong emotions in adults and children. Stressors could be anything from changing sleep pattern, infection fears, frustration, boredom, inadequate supplies, inadequate information, financial loss to stigma.

Uncertainty for health and job security has caused concerns surrounding mental health for affected workers and for those who are exercising work from home option, all of a sudden their houses have transformed from a place where they went to spend time with their family into home offices. The lack of boundaries between work and home life and no social contact is impacting their mental health and wellbeing. Most employees also face an impending sense of guilt that they have not done enough work while they have been at it around the clock. Business leaders need to ensure that their employees take enough down time and focus on their well being to ensure that mental health does not end up being a collateral damage in the fight to recover from this pandemic. Ensuring proper communication with peers and colleagues and being informed is crucial to help employees get through these tough times.

4. Quality of health system

COVID-19 has showed us that the world lacks the ability to assemble a powerful intensive care system at a short notice and this is clearly a challenge for world leaders and governments. The fact that eight out of top ten performing countries on an index of global economic sustainability have handled the health crisis gracefully indicates where we need to shift our focus. This pandemic has helped governments of all kinds realise that there is a connection between our health system quality and our economic capability. This suggests that once we are through the crisis, a number of densely populated developing countries and their international advisors such as the IMF would pay much more attention to the quality of countries' health systems along with numerous other standard indicators in assessing the ability to deal with shocks.

The concept of digital health i.e. the application of disruptive technologies and cultural change to the healthcare sector to help improve individual’s health and wellness might be the next revolution. Digital health covers anything from wearable gadgets, ingestible sensors, mobile health apps to electronic records. It will be essential to exploit the ‘new normal’ of digital modalities in the fight against highly communicable diseases like the novel coronavirus.

5. Emphasis on self sufficiency

The world, caught off guard against the coronavirus, has laid bare the global order’s immune system, which has turned out much weaker than assumed. The global contagion has thrown up challenges beyond our imagination; however, it has also taught us a very important lesson i.e. the need to be self-reliant.

This pandemic has revealed the importance of the national capacities of individual countries. Countries with strong infrastructure and national capacity that took prompt action are putting up a more effective fight against the crisis. Turkey has demonstrated the importance of investing in national and local capacity in public health, communication, agriculture, livestock and the supply chain. In the backdrop is the growing recognition of perils of dependence on China as a cheap source of an array of products as they exploit their position to achieve global dominance.

This public health emergency has also validated the fears of those who felt that the world’s reliance on China for critical goods from active pharmaceutical ingredients to personal protective ingredients for medical professionals constituted a source of vulnerability for countries while equipping Beijing with huge advantage. Despite the odds and impediments, it is absolute necessary that the nations across the globe continue to fight with full determination against the virus and to achieve self-sufficiency. In the coming times, national and domestic self-sufficiency and global cooperation will have to progress hand in hand for a better tomorrow.

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