From the Athens plague in 430BC, which drove profound changes in the city’s laws and identity, to the Black Death in the Middle Ages, which transformed the balance of class power in European societies, to the Spanish flu, public health crisis rarely fail to leave their mark.
In an exclusive webinar organised by The Blue Circle on ‘In the Covid-19 Era: What Does The Future Hold’, Futurist, David Wood, co-founder Symbian, the world’s first successful smartphone operating system, Chair, London Futurists, author and editor of over nine books, Nitin Pai, founder & fellow for geopolitics at the Takshashila Institution, an independent networked think tank and editor, Pragati, The Indian National Interest Review, a publication on strategic affairs, public policy and governance, and Pavan Choudary, a Public Intellectual, author of critically acclaimed best seller on white power, How a Good Person can Really Win, Trilogy of Wisdom (on Chanakya, Confucius) and Machiavelli, CEO and Independent Director, discuss the future economic, social and political implications of Covid-19.
Similarities between previous pandemics and Covid
David said, “One thing we learnt from the Spanish flu, sadly, is that it came in waves. We should be careful about imagining that we are over the worst phase in this current pandemic anytime soon.”
Nitin highlighted an interesting pattern between the Black Death and Covid -19. They both started in China and blew up in Italy, before they hit the rest of the world. He adds, “It’s coincidental but also in a way reflective of the pattern of globalisation and the flow of international trade, then and now.”
Outlining the similarities between the Spanish flu and the current pandemic, Pavan said there are stark similarities when it comes to how both the pademics were viewed by many as divine punishment, how the seriousness of the threat was disregarded in the beginning of both pandemics, and how the medical guidelines vacillated.
Positive implications of pandemics
Pandemics are believed to bring about long-term reforms, even though they cause massive loss of human lives. Pointing to the time of Black Death, David shared, “Previously, Europe was dominated by a feudal system, but after Black Death, many nobles and lords, desperate to get good workers, raised wages for many, leading to the foundation of the middle class.”
Highlighting the role of emerging technologies, Nitin said, “The technological jump has been exponential, while the virus and pathogens have been travelling at their Darwinian scale of evolution. We have become far more capable than the viruses, this is a positive for the moment.”
Citing positive side effects of calamities, Pavan shared that World War helped in the discovery of antibiotics, while the SARS crisis led to more online shopping behaviour in China.
Government’s plan of action to tackle Covid-19
Nitin believes that to balance the outbreak with the loss of livelihoods for 700 million people, the government must localise the control measures at a district or a locality level and concentrate on hotspots. “The government should look at it as a knob, not an on//off switch. It must be able to dial up and dial down, according to risk.”
He also wishes the government resumes infrastructure projects in the next few months, maintaining social distancing. This will create much needed work for the hundreds of thousands of jobless, give industry the confidence to invest, and consumers the confidence to consume.
With work from home becoming the new ‘normal’, David believes that people will finally begin to realise that they do not need to work for long hours. But he says this can only be a reality, if governments step in and offer a Universal Basic Income, irrespective of what a person does.
Pavan said that some feel that the social security net is a hammock and promotes laziness but this net has allowed the spawning of talent like J.K.Rowling, who was herself dependent on this net while she struggled as an author.
Nitin was concerned that there are as many as 500 million Indians who don’t have the luxury of working from home or online.
Getting back to normalcy
While getting back to a normal life and work seems like a distant dream, David feels that we can have close interactions, if we have PPEs (Personal Protection Equipment) available at lower costs. “Let’s hurry up and get this equipment and mingle again.”
One way to get the economy back on its feet, Nitin feels is to open shops and factories (not offices) for longer periods, maybe even for 24 hours, keep less staff and stagger production.This would lead to less crowding and will help in maintaining social distancing.
“And continue wearing masks, following hand hygiene, accelerating testing and practicing social distancing.”
“If we diligently follow these protocols, we can get ourselves up and running in the short term,” he concludes.
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