By DR UMA KANT PANWAR (EX IAS), PhD
Whether the corona catastrophe is the consequence of human greed destroying the environment or just human audacity to play with nature and its living species, the disaster is certainly man-made. Corona will change the world in fundamental ways for ever. Post corona world will be a different world. The way corona has caught the world unawares, it has hit the re-set button on many things and made us think again about our political systems, social norms and cultures, our science, our behavior with nature and environment and our economic priorities.While it is too early to venture guesses at the post corona world, some of the changes are imminent and inevitable.
The ensuing post corona economic meltdown will leave a trail of devastated businesses and large scale unemployment. The whole economic system will need fundamentally new systems of shock-resilience built into all businesses. For example, the entire economic edifice of the world stands on its supply chains. Corona has disrupted the biggest supply line: things flowing out of China to the rest of the world. Most of the world depends on Chinese manufacturing for everything from LEDs to LSDs (life saving drugs) and everything in between from mobile phones to motor cars. This will change. Countries will have to find ways to reduce their dependence on China- the world’s factory.
Democracies will have to redraw the balance between individual liberty and state authority. China was able to control the spread because of the ‘tight’ authoritarian culture which allowed the world’s largest ever airtight lockdown on millions of citizens. The ‘lose’ liberal and democratic cultures of the west have struggled as to how far, and if, they can clamp individual freedom for the larger good of the society. Class and hierarchy ridden societies are also learning how a common enemy can be a great social leveler. Comparison between the international response to the Ebola epidemic (which also killed over 10,000 people) and to the Corona pandemic will raise questions of equity among nations and regions of the world.
Corona has stress-tested the health care systems in the world and they have failed miserably even in the developed countries let lone those in the developing countries. Our health systems are just not designed for this kind of demand surge – neither the hardware nor the software. US – the most developed and the most resource rich country in the world – not only doesn’t have enough beds or tests kits, it doesn’t even have masks and sanitizers. While we can never thank the brave frontline health workers who are laying down their lives to save ours, we have to redesign our health systems to prevent such sacrifices in the future.
While the corona pandemic has demonstrated the perils of a hyper-connected world – in terms of the instantaneous spread of contagion across the world, It has also demonstrated the utility of fast communication over the internet and social media for sharing of crucial information among scientists and medical world to develop containment and treatment responses. It also calls for new protocols of international travel and medical quarantine.
Debates around data collection by governments vs individual privacy will be reframed. If governments had more and more personal data of citizens such as their medical histories, travel behaviors, movements – would it be easier to identify and better target vulnerable population groups or even individuals for prevention, treatment and quarantine.Should authorities be allowed to use personal data and cellphone tracking technologies for contact mapping and tracking infected individuals.
The corona disaster also puts a question mark on how governments allocate resources for science and R &D; should we spend more on defense research or redouble spending on science of disease, particularly on vaccine research. What about research to gene-engineer immunity against viruses given that we now have complete human genome sequenced.
The corona episode will also re-design and re-define our work places and work culture. Work form home may acquire new currency and deployment of technologies such as 5G will acquire urgency to make virtualworkplaces more effective with things such as 3D online meetings. Educational institutions have been shut down and have started online teaching of regular programs. This makes us re-evaluate even more the need to work from traditional offices and traditional classrooms.
It is not even possible to anticipate the kind of effects we will experience post-corona quarantine and death of loved ones. The socio-psychological effects on individuals and families will only being to unravel once we are past the initial blow of the disease. It will be sometime before we find our feet again, and even more time when we start thinking of re-setting our systems, Corona will certainly leave the world changed in many fundamental ways.
Dr. Uma Kant is a former civil servant and has a doctorate in international public health. He is a public systems thinker and works in the area of public policy and governance. He is currently heading Athena Infonomics – a data driven and research focused international consulting firm in the areas of public systems, social policy research and policy advisory.