Almost six months into this pandemic, very few people have a clue as to how to navigate their way out of this crisis.
Medical experts have modelled dire consequences if certain rules and guidelines are not followed. Business leaders are hoping for restrictions to ease so that they can get back to what they practice best – capitalism. Globally almost all governments have embarked on quasi–socialistic policies as they try to support the public. The traditional boundaries between business, government and the public have blurred, and there seems to be no quick fix in sight.
However, the share markets, which represent the collective wealth of the community, are faring well at the moment. After the sharp downturn in March, as the initial news and uncertainty of the virus hit, the markets have bounced back quickly. Disruption creates opportunities: tech stocks, especially the FANGs (Facebook, Alphabet, Netflix and Google) and health care stocks are up for obvious reasons. The reality of what is happening for most traditional businesses is hidden beneath the surface, as markets are awash with cheap government money. When added to the social government handouts, it keeps alive a lot of failed or failing businesses.
But at some time, these band aid solutions will need to stop. In Australia with the travel, education and hospitality industries decimated, the climb back to pre-March levels will be tough. Current predictions are that one in seven Australians will be out of work – and with high unemployment, there will be pressure on the social and economic fabric of the nation. There will be challenges at almost at all levels, from the future of aged care to how childcare will work, whether our socialising will return as before, and whether face masks be mandatory for all.
Globally, countries like China who on the surface of it have endured this pandemic better than others, can build up more power. They already have form in gaining influence through economic interventions. Post COVID, countries in Africa, Asia and the Pacific will be more vulnerable which could lead to more direct economic and subsequently political clout for China. The United States with its confused messaging and abdication of some roles such as involvement with NATO and WHO will lose its international high ground. Europe, sans UK, may well emerge as a more powerful bloc. We could see tacit cooperation amongst authoritarian regimes such as China, Russia, Iran and North Korea to counter liberal democracies such as US, India, Japan and Australia.
How this rolls out over the next decade will be interesting to observe.
What will help is an early and rapid roll out of a vaccine to counter the spread of the virus. India could well play a vital role here. Currently, the world’s largest vaccine-maker is Pune’s Serum Institute, which has ramped up capacity to manufacture as many as a billion doses of a vaccine in development by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford. It’s in phase two trials in India and England, and phase three trials in Brazil and South Africa.
COVID-19 will go beyond setting up new trends such as working from home or practising social distancing. Perhaps in 10 years’ time, when we look back, could this be the time when everything changed?
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