The world holds its breath due to the Corona crisis. It is not just Thailand that has hit hard. The economy is slowing down. Public life is stagnating in-home office and quarantine. But how long are we going to last? How long can a state or society afford such a shutdown? Sure, many of the measures taken are sensible and save lives. But it is also clear that things cannot go on forever. We will soon have to get back to normal. But what does this new normal look like?
We won’t last the status quo for long.
The inner cities are swept clean. The shops, restaurants, schools, and daycare centers are closed. There are unprecedented contact restrictions to save lives and protect the health system from overloading with COVID-19 infections and serious illnesses. This is understandable, reasonable, and socially correct.
Cohesion and mutual respect are fundamental for the functioning of a society in a crisis. This shows how solidary (or selfish) we really are.
It is also about capturing statistical relationships. We lack experience and reliable data for such a pandemic. The economist would also speak of elasticity here. Questions like: When you isolate people, how does the infection rate change? The reverse question is even more important: How does the infection rate (and the risk of infection) change when you let so many people back on the street?
In other words:
How many and which people can participate in social life at the same time in order to keep the infection curve flat (enough)?
This question is so important because we know that we won’t last the status quo for a long time.
Even now, the government had to put together a billion-baht rescue package to protect entrepreneurs and companies from the worst damage. It won’t be long.
Experts are already talking about “loss of prosperity,” some even speak of an impending recession. A global economic crisis. Duration is still unknown.
And we know about the increasing problems that domestic isolation brings with it: Starting with camp cracks, domestic violence is increasing in many places. The children suffer the most.
It is clear that at some point, the costs will outweigh the benefits of the contact restrictions. And this will probably be reached sometime in May 2020 at the latest.
But what does the return scenario look like?
Gradual return to normal
Back to normal - everything again as before: daycare centers, schools, shops open again, everyone goes back to work, everything as usual? That can not be. We wouldn’t have gained anything with that. On the contrary: we would only have postponed the wave of infections with subsequent overloading of the health system to May/June. And we would have paid a (much too) high price for this shift: bankruptcies, debts, recession.
That is why it is already clear today that there can only be a gradual return to normalcy.
For example, those who have recovered and who have demonstrably defeated the coronavirus (SARS-CoV2) (keyword: antibody tests) can move freely again (provided they cannot infect anyone).
At the same time, risk groups should continue to be protected and isolated.
And we have to test test test - along the lines of Asia (specifically: South Korea).
We have also known the most effective protective measures against the coronavirus for a long time. As long as we do not have vaccination protection and the contact restrictions can no longer be maintained, we mainly have:
Reduce social contacts (where ever possible)
Keep your distance (at least 1.5 meters, better: 2 meters)
Frequent, thorough hand washing
Face masks (mandatory) in public
A gradual return to normality, therefore, also means:
Shops and restaurants could open again but would have to follow the distance rules strictly. Depending on the size, only a maximum of two to three customers is allowed in the shop. Or only ten instead of the usual 30 guests in the restaurant. And they should only be sitting at the table with a maximum of two people - with an all-round distance of at least 1.5 meters.
Schools could open again. But the class sizes would have to be significantly smaller (halved) so that the children can sit further apart. Lessons may have to take place in the morning for some and in the afternoon for others.
Also, cinemas, theaters, universities, and companies could open on this principle by occupying only every third seat and selling only a third of the tickets per room.
Sure, whether that is enough for economic survival; We do not (yet) know whether enough teachers are available for such steps. But these are precisely the questions that we can and must deal with right now - and not only at the end of April or in May.
Why wait until then when we already know that the gradual return will come because it has to come and the relaxation of the measures is inevitable? Why risk further costs and bankruptcies and wait until the end of April when the unavoidable can already be realized carefully, and step by step?
It is also about protecting livelihoods.
It is not about action; it is not a premature action. But if we already know what will happen in May at the latest, we can start today (or next week). Neither will there be a vaccine for everyone against Corona until May. The lockdown can still be continued indefinitely.
No question: two different sides and opinions meet here:
The virologists and doctors advocate long-term isolation because this protects most people.
Sociologists, psychologists, and economists oppose that no state, no society can afford it in the long run, not Thailand, europian countries, not even the USA.
Politics sits in between and has to weigh and decide. Not an easy task, of course. Especially since no politician wants to be accused of having done wrong. Still, waiting is not a solution. Nobody is helped when millions of people are in four or eight weeks before the shards of their existence. Unemployed. Destitute. In debt. Without prospects.
It is correct that the primary goal must be to save human lives. But we also have to keep the existence and its foundations. In other words, we have to find a middle ground to achieve as much of both as possible. And now - not only in four weeks.
COVID-19 will change the world of work.
The “back to normal” will not mean that everything will be the same as it was at the beginning of the year. That would be naive. COVID-19 has already changed the world of work significantly. And it will continue to change them sustainably. The normality, as we knew it, would no longer exist.
I don’t mean that as a threatening horror scenario. Not at all. The coronavirus also offers us some opportunities.
Employers who have persistently refused digitalization, new work and other modern forms of employment have recently sent their employees to their home office. Necessarily. But not without consequences. You notice: suddenly it works.
The post-corona era will, therefore, also have some positive changes for us:
More home office, less commuting.
Where the home office regulations now work well after a familiarization phase, they will also be used more frequently in the future, especially where it previously seemed unthinkable. This means that employees will have to commute less to work in the future and spend less time in traffic jams or on crowded trains. This saves lifetime, reduces traffic, protects the environment and nerves.
Video conferences reduce business trips.
The same applies to modern forms of communication, especially video conferencing. President Prayut rules the country from home. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is also in quarantine. If even government leaders remain able to act via video conference, this applies all the more to managers and their employees. The lessons to be learned from this: Video conferences will save a lot of travel costs and travel time in the future. Sure, some things are still better negotiated in a real one-on-one conversation. But much can be replaced by virtual conferences. An enormous potential - also for our environment (after all, Corona does not remove climate change).
Fewer offices, less fixed costs.
However, if more and more people can (and want to) work in their home office, then the companies need less office space overall. After all, not everyone has to be in the company at the same time. This saves rental and fixed costs. However, it may also create new living spaces in the city centers and thus relax the housing market.
Even more: It could start a new return to the country, where (for families) there is more living space (and nature) for smaller budgets. Thanks to digitization, the home office, and video conference experience, we don’t necessarily have to live as close as possible to our employers.
Make a career in a virtual team.
The increasing collaborative work in virtual teams also presents managers and specialists with new challenges: Managers have to learn how to manage and lead such networked, but no longer physically present teams. At the same time, specialists have to find out how they can pursue a career or develop professionally within such dissolved structures. This process will also change the world of work as we know it today.
And last but not least, the corona crisis will also turn some industries (positively) inside out. Above all, the healthcare industry. We already recognize how systemically important our healthcare system is. The profession and the services of nurses and doctors must, therefore, not only be applauded (cynically) but also be financially upgraded - through higher wages and better working conditions and times. And we need more of them permanently.
“Flatten the curve” is necessary above all because “lower the budget” has been practiced in most industrialized countries in this area in recent decades, and short-sighted savings have been made. This is taking revenge now.
Acting out of the paralysis
Yes, we are in the middle of a global and unprecedented crisis. The consequences will be with us for a few more months. Possibly until 2021 and beyond. The crisis will change our working world massively. Permanent.
Quite soberly and realistically: some bankruptcies are already inevitable. Quite a few people will have to look for new jobs. More extended periods of unemployment are also conceivable. For those affected, there must be solutions by the state and the community. A society can also grow from this.
But even if prosperity is foreseeably less for everyone: we have to get back into action from the paralysis. Pragmatic. Step by step. But starting with the first step. And now.