Covid 19 – A Changed World?

March 23, 2020

It was our local cricket clubs’ AGM the Friday before last. The craic was good. Plenty of slagging, a few beers and heated debate. Very much business as usual.

Saturday came, and with it, a trickle of news reports on the Coronavirus. Nothing overtly alarming; it was for the Chinese to deal with at that stage. But then the Italians were next. And now it’s us.

It was easy, for a while, to countenance the virus the way we consider starvation. We know it’s there. It’s just that, well, not here – What can we really do? That’s for Oxfam and the World Bank fellas to worry about, not us.

The cricket AGM will always be a vivid marker in my mind. We packed into the pavilion, sitting side by side, things were normal. Social distancing was a mere glint in the eye of Sir Patrick Vallance.

 In the space of a few days, Covid 19 is very much in the here and now. This year, it is almost certain that there will be no cricket. The things you take for granted.

What have I learned since?

1.    Twitter is nobody’s friend. Get rid.

2.    The simple things are everything. A close friend was home. I couldn’t shake his hand or give him a hug. I can’t hug my mum on Mothers’ Day.

3.    Divisions. If there ever was a chance for the disenfranchised and marginalised in society to play a role, this is it. Everyone can make an impact.

Covid 19 has become been declared a global pandemic. And this is certainly not hyperbole. Every region in the world has, or will be, impacted heavily by this. The world it seems, all those far away hunger crises and wars, is not so big after all.

How will it impact the world?

Remote Working. This will be an interesting test. Among the many existential things that I have contemplated on over the past week, I have drawn the conclusion that time is plentiful yet also finite and precious.

Large swathes of our workforce are now being forced to work from home. It will be informative to see if organisational efficacy is maintained throughout this period.

 How many office workers need to be at their stations for 8 hours daily? We will find out.

In an era where we are blessed by a suite of technology tools that make physical location largely redundant, why not utilise them and embrace flexible working?

Planning. It takes a pandemic to remind people that planning is utterly futile. We are all subject to external forces that pay no heed or regard to the best laid plans of mice and men.

I wonder will it herald a shift in a national psyche from the future, and the past, to the present. I have every degree of sympathy and respect for historical enquiries and climate change activism, but I wonder has this pandemic shown us the imperative of forgetting days past and the futility of legislating for days in the future.

For instance, the Government committed £17 Billion annually to fight climate change, and £2.4 Billion for historical enquiries. Not to denigrate the merits of these extremely worthy causes, but there is £19.4 Billion that could have otherwise been deployed to finding a vaccine for Covid 19 now. And when you compare that figure to the $100M deployed by Facebook, you realise it is quite significant. Nice to have cash for a rainy day.

Perhaps the event of a genuine existential shock like a panedic will remind people that every single day is a precious gift.

A New World Order. If people cannot work, they cannot earn. If they cannot earn, they cannot pay for things. Many, many people live from pay cheque to pay cheque and rely on their next income for subsistence. When this is taken away from them, they are vulnerable.

This pandemic has proven, irrefutably, how vulnerable this system is to external shocks. Things that cannot be accounted for. To use insurance vernacular, Acts of God. In the UK, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has endured somewhat of a baptism of fire. He has announced an unprecedented package of aid in conjunction with fiscal stimulus and quantitative easing measures from the Bank of England.

Except, this is largely borrowed money. There is no magic money tree. It’s primarily borrowed indirectly from us through bonds, pension pot debentures and private sector asset purchases. It’s essentially a bet predicated on future economic growth.

 What happens if there is no economic growth? What happens if Covid 19 returns year after year? Then we cannot service the debt. Our credit rating is dropped. We cannot borrow more. In time, we become Greece. Is this really sustainable? Greece was an isolated country that had overextended. With this pandemic, we are talking about a global shock. If the UK, France and Germany all defaulted on debt – who would bail us out?

It is surely time to consider the provision of a universal basic income to citizens. There is a fiscal argument that this is cost effective in the long run, and also a moral imperative; external shocks cannot be legislated for, but people should not be exposed to this vulnerability. In this crisis, it is fundamentally wrong that vast swathes of the population should be compelled to worry about their ability to buy hand sanitiser and other essentials.

Covid 19 has certainly impacted upon our lives already. More ethereal and harrowing experiences are coming in the weeks ahead. This begs the question – will we emerge into a changed world?

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