Comments abound these days of people touting the end of the world because of COVID-19. But I assure you, the world is doing just fine. Better than ever even. It is just us, humankind, that faces unprecedented challenges because of the pandemic.
So, I wanted to list some things that I think are going to lead to lasting changes for us. It’s going to be a wild mix of stuff, so get ready for some wild leaps of topic. Also, feel free to add things or call me out on stuff if some things just don’t sound right to you.
- Hygiene habits. Washing hands more, shaking hands less, etc. I think it’s here to stay, and it might even help us become more resilient towards other bacteria and viruses in the long run.
- Remote work. As companies discover that many jobs can be done remotely without losing productivity (or even gaining), it will become more prevalent. It’ll save on office space, too.
- Fossil fuels. Demand now is at an all-time low and the industry might change forever. Even a small percentage of the workforce doing home office every day will noticeably impact demand, but greater changes are coming – we’d better prepare for them.
- Technologization. Is that a word? Anyway, more remote work means more demand for adequate digital infrastructure. Better internet for everyone (yay), more power for the already-powerful tech companies and service providers (boo) and a further decline of fossil fuel companies.
- Health care. Deep structural issues with healthcare systems all around the world are being revealed by COVID-19. The question is not if changes are needed, but if we will be able to implement them.
- Industry changes. Less demand for fossil fuels means overproduction, which means lower prices. OPEC-countries will be affected, Russia won’t be happy, but US-based fracking will take the biggest hit, as it needs the highest price per barrel of the lot to remain profitable.
- Shifting businesses. Especially many small and medium ones have already gone bankrupt, leaving a hole in the economy. Even if things normalize, the damage already done is complex and this hole will take much longer to stuff.
- New demands. As consumers find what they really need, they also find what they can do without. The result will be an altered economic landscape. Personally, I hope it will be a more sustainable one.
- Surveillance and control. I have talked before about how governments can use a crisis to increase their power and influence. COVID-19 is a god-sent for leaders who just waited for an excuse to ramp up measures. Be vigilant, because no country is immune to authoritarianism.
- Universal Basic Income. I don’t think it’ll be the first thing after the crisis but talk about it has increased in the past weeks. At the very least, new ideas are being considered for a post-crisis world, and I’m happy that UBI is one of them.
- Terrorism. It was never gone, but globally weakened governments will give new impetus to non-governmental militants everywhere.
- Africa. Just after releasing the last Ebola patients, here comes COVID-19. Even with global support, this would be tough. Now, despite World Bank support, it will get even tougher.
- Europe. Solidarity seems in short supply, as countries scramble to fight COVID-19 by themselves. EU-level responses are being discussed, but will it be too little too late? I hope not. Also, there may be new refugees, and a better reason to turn them away. Another humanitarian disaster in the making?
- Russia. Oil and gas sales are one of Russia’s largest revenue streams. If sales drop, while NATO and EU continue to encroach, dormant conflicts may quickly spring to life. Crimea is not done, and Kaliningrad has yet to truly begin. All the while, Russia’s COVID-19 situation is uncertain.
- USA. What started as a health crisis now reveals the cracks in every part of the country. An overburdened and broken healthcare system, unprecedented unemployment, a likely recession, social divide, struggling leadership… the list goes on. A lot will be decided in the coming months, and the pandemic may only be the beginning of rapidly approaching changes.
- China. Things may well be more volatile than they seem. The CPC lost trust and authority and scrambles to rebuild it. Internally, social unrest could quickly spiral out of control and COVID-19 may yet return for another round. Internationally, countries could rethink their dependency on China. The last word will only be spoken once the world emerges from the pandemic.
- The UN. The WHO, too, faces accusations of mismanagement and stumbles over the Taiwan-question. But the UN at large has been all too quiet as the pandemic unfolds. While General Secretary Guterres desperately pushes for global peace and unity, the Security Council has yet to act at all. None of this helps UN authority one bit.
- Pandemics. After years of unheeded warnings, a global pandemic has come. Will it come in several waves, like the 1918 flu pandemic did? Will it ever truly disappear? I hope we will at least go for more than token measures to increase our preparedness for the next one.
- Leadership crisis. Shocks to normalcy always trigger criticism. What seems different this time is that criticism is raised against leaders all around the world simultaneously. Maybe it is time to re-evaluate how we define a leader and who should fill that role.
Of course, this just scratches the surface of how COVID-19 could and is changing the world as we know it. At the end of the day, change always poses threats and opportunities. The only way to realize the good while avoiding the bad is if we tackle it together.