Pandemic – Exit Strategy
Will COVID-19 bring about an Economic Ice Age ?
David Wortley – IORMA Virtual Conferences Director
Coronavirus is almost certainly the biggest catastrophe in living human history. A cataclysmic event potentially on a par with the meteor strike that we believe annihilated the dinosaurs, probably the most evolved and dominant species on earth at the time.
In any important challenge in business or society, an exit strategy is a vital component for survival. Exit strategies are usually based on an assumption of a successful outcome. In business, exit strategies help to plan for the sale/disposal of a company/organisation. In domestic life, exit strategies could relate to divorce/separation or the leaving home of a child. In warfare, exit strategies are plans based on the end of a military campaign. Exit strategies pose the question “What Next”.
In the case of the pandemic COVID-19, there has been frequent reference to having an “exit strategy” to prepare for the “What Next?” question. Unlike most exit strategies, control of the final outcome of COVID-19, with its winners and losers, is not confined to a limited cohort of individuals and/or organisations and/or communities. COVID-19 is a global phenomenon which will impact the whole world and the most diverse set of interests possible. There is not a sector of society or any human activity that will remain unchanged as a result of what is happening now. Consequently, the outcome of COVID-19 for both society and business is not only uncertain but is almost impossible to predict.
As if the complexity and diversity of interests affected by Coronavirus were not enough, the type of information needed to develop a successful exit strategy is almost entirely missing. It is true that our previous experience of serious pandemics like MERS and SARS has given us an insight into how to mitigate the impact of a pandemic and allow normal daily life to be maintained to a large degree but the situation with COVID-19 is a new order of magnitude for the following reasons.
- We don’t really know how many people have been infected because the figures are based on only people who have been tested – it does not include infected people with no or minor symptoms
- We cannot tell for certain how deadly the virus is because of the above
- We are uncertain about the full range of symptoms and it may be that mild cold-like symptoms which do not conform to typical identified symptoms are also coronavirus positive and infectious
- We are not sure to what extent children can spread the virus and since they are a group with extensive social contact with friends and family, they could be highly significant as “super-spreaders
- The origins of Coronavirus are uncertain and could be the source of future and different infections
- We don’t know whether summer conditions will affect the transmission and incubation of the virus in the same way it does with other viruses
- We have not established why some people get more severe symptoms even though we know from the death figures that the elderly and people with underlying conditions are more at risk
- We can’t know how long immunity will last and whether it can be caught more than once like influenza
- It is unclear whether the virus will mutate into other strains like influenza does.
All of these factors make it difficult, if not impossible, to develop an exit strategy or even whether an exit strategy will ever be viable. It is quite possible that, unless/until a cure and/or vaccine has been developed and validated, COVID-19 could become the main determinant of the future of mankind and human society and commerce.
What Next if No Exit Strategy is Viable?
The unanswered questions shown above inhibit any kind of reliable data modelling and simulation upon which we might assess different scenarios. The worst case scenario in which COVID-19 becomes a non-seasonal epidemic with a virus that can be caught more than once and that has a high mortality rate for older citizens and those with existing medical conditions. The worst case scenario also involves asymptomatic citizens and those with mild symptoms being highly infectious meaning that any contact with them, especially with vulnerable people, would be dangerous.
This worst-case scenario could involve the current lockdown, self-isolation strategy become the norm as the only reliable way to protect the old and vulnerable. The consequences of this would be a major threat not only to the way of life we have become accustomed to, but also to the future of the human race as a heterogeneous species.
If a certain section of society such as the elderly and ill have to be isolated from the rest of society for their survival and denied human to human contact, it would mean that the current problems of the ageing society and the resources needed to support a population of non-earners would be magnified exponentially and become totally unsustainable.
The disruption to commerce and especially those sectors which rely on social gatherings and low-cost transportation will see goods and services we now take for granted disappear with massive job losses. Many of the “knowledge sector” jobs will be replaced by artificial intelligence and machine learning and the trend towards careers based on apprentice shops will accelerate so that the majority of jobs available to human beings will be craft and apprenticeship based.
Clearly, those sectors of business and society that are essential to survival will have to continue. Agriculture, hospitals, schools, distribution chains, manufacturing of essential goods and especially digital communications will need to continue functioning if we are to recover in any way from the current situation.
It may be, in a much extended current scenario that the uses of digital communications for business and social use that are emerging for both business and social use will become a primary means of socialising and doing business and it could be that COVID-19 creates an opportunity for humanity to address many of the environmental and ecological sustainability issues that have become increasingly imperative.
The ability of human beings to communicate has been a foundation of the development of civilisation and the growth in standards of living exemplified by the historical impact of quantum leaps in communications technologies. In this sense, human beings are probably in a better position to survive a crisis like this than at any previous time in history.
Food for Thought
Few things can be predicted with any certainty about the outcome of COVID-19 but from what has happened so far, we know there is likely to be mass unemployment and hardship amongst the disadvantaged in society. This raises the possibility of some difficult questions about the future of humanity such as :-
- Will there be large scale civil unrest after COVID-19?
- Could there be a backlash against the rich and prosperous including serious criminal behaviours?
- Will there be massive conspiracy theories promoted by ill-intentioned, tech-savvy individuals and groups?
- Will this experience lead to the use of identity cards to certify “Virus-Free” status to allow for social interaction?
The Physical and Mental Health Backlash from COVID-19
Webinar Wednesday April 23rd 2020 at 14:00 BST
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Wednesday April 23rd 2020 at 14:00 BST