As the new year 2020 was about to arrive, there was a murmur on the news and social media channels. This murmur was about a strange new kind of illness one of the provinces of China was seeing. It was a new virus that apparently came from one of the vet markets of Wuhan. The virus was causing the flu and pneumonia like illness. Wuhan was the worst affected city. In the interest of transparency, I should mention that there are many other theories on the (yet to be finalized) origin of this new virus. WHO has named the virus as SARS-COV2 and the illness it causes as, COVID-19. After four months, the world is under COVID-19 lockdown.
After creating a havoc in China, the virus spread to other parts of the world. The WHO declared COVID-19 as a global pandemic on 12-March-20. For simplicity and because it is from the Corona Virus family, I will call this virus the NewCorona Virus.
How COVID-19 Surprised the World
The NewCorona virus is highly contagious and has spread very quickly across the globe. With the disruption it has caused everywhere, I can say that the COVID-19 pandemic completely caught the world, off guard. Visionaries from time to time have predicted the possibility of a global pandemic that can bring the world to its knees. In his very popular book on the impact of highly improbable events, author Nassim Nicholas Taleb, has predicted that an epidemic is in the offing. Yet, nobody thought it could be this soon and that it would hit us this hard.
Many countries had to announce a complete lockdown prohibiting people venturing out of their homes. According to this report, more than 1/3rd of world population is under lockdown to prevent the spread of NewCorona virus. India first announced a three week lockdown and then extended it to 40 days.
With no economic activity due to the lockdown, the world is looking at a very bad recession. According to a report by the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), the COVID-19 lockdown may cause the world economy to shrink by 1%. The world will need to work together to overcome this recession.
In addition to all the other problems associated with the lack of economic activity, India is also going to face problems due to the return of migrant workers to their native places. As the lockdown was announced, hoards of migrant workers from urban areas started moving back to their villages and towns. A huge number of them is already said to have returned. Some are stuck on the way due to the curfew and some are anxious to go back as soon as they get a chance. Here it is worth understanding that the migrant workers in the urban areas are employed in the industry and services sectors with only a negligible percentage employed in Agriculture and allied sector.
Now let’s look at the charts showing distribution of India’s workforce in different sectors and how these sectors contribute to the GDP.
While close to half of India’s workforce is employed in Agriculture sector, the contribution of Agriculture sector to GDP is a meager 14%. When people go back to villages, they generally get to work on farms. Putting couple of my tweets to explain how the return of migrant workers is going to hurt the Indian economy.
What this means is that the sectors that contribute the most to Indian economy may face a shortage of skilled workers in the aftermath of #COVID19.
At the same time more workers will be involved in less productive agriculture sector.
— Onkar Pandey (@iOnkarPandey) April 19, 2020
Using the economic stimulus, there are ways with which the government may be able to fight the lack of demand and other such problems. But, the worker unavailability is a human factor that needs to be thought through and addressed. It is worth noting that these are mostly skilled workers. Companies can’t replace them easily. The government may need to take some special steps to bring the workers back to their work arena.
Re-configuring Supply Chain
While the COVID-19 lockdown is creating pain across the globe, there is a different aspect of it that may help the Indian economy recover faster and probably get on the fast track.
In the race to be more profitable, companies across the globe had ignored a very basic rule of supply chain management. The rule to not be dependent on just one supplier or one geography. When China was battling the full force of the pandemic, the economic activity there, stopped. Many of the companies that were dependent on China for the manufacturing of their products or for raw material, faced severe issues. The COVID-19 lockdown has forced the companies to rethink diversification of their supply chain. This move is going to help India along with some other east Asian countries as the business giants move their manufacturing facilities to these countries. There are reports about some companies already in touch with the Indian government to move their manufacturing to India. The Indian government is also making sure to not miss this opportunity to bolster its #MakeInIndia initiative.
Technology and Innovation
The COVID-19 pandemic spread very quickly and became a challenge for human ingenuity. Rarely anybody living today has faced such a situation before. While the researchers have been working tirelessly to create a vaccine, recovering the infected people was the only option. One of the scarce resource in this fight was the ventilators. It seemed like the pandemic would require a lot many ventilators than even countries with best healthcare facilities may have. Accepting this challenge, the innovators across the globe started working to develop cheap ventilators. The aim was to produce the ventilators quickly to address the demand.
The real takeaway from this story on COVID-19 innovation is the lessons we have learnt from it. The world is always going to remember this pandemic and how we responded to it. All future healthcare plans will take the learning from this event to make us better prepared in future.
Due to this NewCorona virus, the distrust for China among the western countries is at its peak. Many believe that the NewCorona virus was a bio weapon being developed by China that accidentally got unleashed. There are some conspiracy theories even claiming that the release of NewCorona virus was intentional. Whatever may be the truth, this pandemic has created a kind of informal global coalition against China. While governments might not be publicly expressing their anger (in some cases they did), people have been expressing their displeasure towards China eloquently.
According to a recent survey in the US, 2/3rd of respondents showed an unfavorable view of China. The opinion in Germany doesn’t seem to be very different where a tabloid sent a bill of USD 162 billion to the Chinese embassy. There are reports that the UK has revoked its contract with the Chinese company Huawei for the roll out of 5G technology. All these reports are signaling towards the distrust that various economic powers now have towards China.
The world has been watching China for a long time, trying to position itself to be a dominant power. It was undoubtedly not amusing for the incumbent superpower(s). The Belt and Road Initiative is being watched with suspicion even by the countries that are a part of it. Even smaller countries are questioning China’s role and its failure in preventing the spread of NewCorona virus. Chinese economy was not doing well even before the pandemic. Now, it seems, the world is coming together to ask China some tough questions. It’s the beginning of something that would take shape in next few years.
Lack of the economic activity has reduced the emission of green house gases and air pollutants in the atmosphere. The improved air quality has improved visibility. Social media has been abuzz with pictures of clean skies with people reporting the ability to see distant objects as visibility improved. This, however, is a temporary situation. As the lockdown on economic activities and travel etc is lifted, we will be back to square one.
Going by the past experience, we may even be worse. An article on carbon emissions after the 2008-09 economic crisis from the researchers of Center for International Climate and Environmental Research – Oslo (CICERO) shows that the carbon emission grew vigorously after the crisis. The human desire of trying to catch-up and compensate for the losses, drives this behavior. It is worth remembering that unlike now, the 2008-09 Global financial crisis did not cause a forceful lockdown. So, we may see a more severe bounce-back of the emissions this time. If we wish to take some tough measures to ensure the emission remain subdued, this is the time. It doesn’t, however, seems the world will take any strict action towards this.
While it isn’t yet over, the COVID-19 pandemic has altered many set conventions of day-to-day life. Academic institutions are working distantly through the internet, factories are closed, highways, railways and even airways are closed. Governments and people who can, are working from home. While some countries are limping back to ‘normalcy’, there are talks of extended lockdown in some countries . SAARC member nations have created an emergency fund to fight COVID-19 in South Asia. G20 group has come together pledging support of USD 5 trillion to help the world economy in this tragic time. We will need a lot of cooperation, hard work and ingenuity to come out of this ditch.
When the lockdown is finally lifted and we come out of our houses, we will have a world different than what we had prior to 2020.
COVID-19 pandemic will be termed as an epochal event in the history of mankind.