By: Mihir Malhotra
Editor: Praharsh Mehrotra
Illustration by Ka Ling
As we neared the end of 2019, a virus began to spread around the world; eventually resulting in a global pandemic. This pandemic eventually leads to an all-rounded halt across the world. This pandemic gave way to the implementation of lockdowns and social distancing in the majority of countries. Due to this, many businesses, economies, and individuals suffered hard-hitting consequences and losses. The pandemic caused numerous economic and social challenges; whether it was the stock market crash, the bankruptcy of many businesses, or the increase in anxiety and depression due to individuals being forced into social distancing and isolation that some individuals are more susceptible to. This article takes into account all these occurrences and also throws light on how these events have caused permanent changes.
A Stitch In Time
With the world is still awaiting a vaccine for COVID-19, countries have rushed to impose strict lockdowns and social distancing measures to curb the spread of the disease. These lockdowns are necessary to prevent transmission, therefore, reducing the reproduction rates of the virus (Sault, 2020).
As the disease quickly turned into a pandemic, the world was taken into a panic, however, what didn’t meet the eye at first were the external factors and collateral damage that have seen major impact due to the outbreak and the lockdowns that followed.
While the lockdowns created a lot of positive impact in response to the pandemic, there were many disadvantages caused to businesses and other social phenomena in society.
Pros of the Lockdown
1. This emergency protocol declared by various heads of state has unintentionally benefitted the environment surrounding us. Take, for example, the tributaries of the holy river Ganges, one of the most polluted rivers in the world which have now become astonishingly clean and have enough oxygen to sustain life all thanks to less industrial waste being released into it (The Economist, 2020).
According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the pandemic offers us an opportunity to save the world’s waters. UNCTAD opines that due to the disruption caused by the pandemic, governments can rethink fishing subsidies that have led to overfishing, digitize maritime processes to slash down CO2emissions caused by the shipping industry and build more sustainable tourism spots for affected coastal regions.
Around 90% of the world’s population breathes toxic air (Broom, 2020). The lockdowns, a blessing in disguise, have shown that reducing the burning of fossil fuels can drastically reduce pollutants in the air (Gardiner, 2020).
Figure 1. How the lockdowns have globally reduced nitrogen dioxide pollution, compared year-on-year. From Less pollution for now, by B. Gardiner, 2020, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/04/pollution-made-the-pandemic-worse-but-lockdowns-clean-the-sky/.
Researchers believe that during this pandemic, there can be a better understanding of harmful emissions, which can ultimately lead to greener policies by decision-makers (American Geophysical Union, 2020). In fact, there has already been progressing in this regard as cities have started allocating space for walkers and bicyclists in order to avoid pre-pandemic gridlocks and pollution (Sengupta & Plumer, 2020).
2. Online wellness businesses are now booming, with fitness apps, cookery shows and mental well-being apps dominating (The Economist, 2020). For some wellbeing apps, downloads grew manifolds.
Figure 2. Increase in online searches during lockdowns globally. From Alexa, I’m bored, by The Economist, 2020, https://www.economist.com/international/2020/04/04/with-millions-stuck-at-home-the-online-wellness-industry-is-booming
Zoom, the videoconferencing app which is an essential to conduct many of the aforementioned businesses, had its stock soar 226% this year, owing to lockdowns (Bursztynsky, 2020).
3. In a survey conducted by Gartner of 317 CFO’s, 74% of them believe that at least 5% of their workforce will work-from-home permanently. Despite being a big cultural shift, the work-from-home model wastes less time and significantly reduces facilities costs (Kovar, 2020). This comes as companies today have realized that the present technology is developed enough to get the job done away from cubicles (Denning, 2020).
As employees started to work from home, families could reunite and spend more time with each other. What were viewed as strenuous household chores became family activities. Overall awareness increased. People started taking part in various courses either to learn a hobby or acquire a new skill (Birla, 2020).
1. Unfortunately, lockdowns throughout the world have acted as a catalyst for domestic violence and mental health problems.
It has been proven that whenever families spend extra time together, domestic violence surges (Taub, 2020). People began to release their stress and anxiety on the helpless individuals surrounding them. The lockdowns make it even more difficult for victims to ask for help or escape the misery at home. Sooner or later, lockdowns will end, yet the situation here appears to have a grim outlook. As the global economy took a toll, it negatively affected the financial life of many abusers, who resorted to raising their hands at home.
As for mental health, the rise in levels of anxiety amongst the public is transitory as fear of contracting the virus is inevitable during a pandemic, says the World Health Organization (WHO). The problem, however, is for those already suffering from mental health disorders as the lockdowns have disrupted their treatment. Moreover, it has also deterred their access to medication as their prescriptions expire (Jalihal, 2020).
2. This “flatten the curve” attempt has undeniably had severe consequences on the global economy. According to WHO, the pandemic has established presence in over 200 countries throughout the globe. Thus, nations had to enforce such stringent measures, leading to an economic downturn. Given the volatility of the situation, companies fear taking risks, and this leads to procrastinating investment decisions, laying off already furloughed workers and in some cases becoming bankrupt (Jackson et al., 2020).
All of this has led to The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) forecasting a 6.0% to 7.6% fall in economic growth in 2020, depending on whether or not there will be a second wave of infections. The OECD also concluded that the unemployment rate will rise to 9.2% and 10%, the highest in 25 years depending on whether a second wave of infections arise or not.
Naturally, global trade also followed suit as a result of the economic blow due to lockdowns. The World Trade Organization (WTO) projects a decline between 13% and 32% in 2020. Export dependant nations will suffer the most.
Businesses: Salvation or Doom?
During a pandemic, different businesses face different risks. In today’s situation, some businesses suffered more while some suffered less. On another note, there were also businesses who benefitted from the global outbreak.
Restaurants and bars, sports and exercising facilities and the hospitality industry were the ones who faced the brunt of it (Pietsch, 2020). However, the aviation industry, the one which helped the virus reach various parts of the world, took the hardest blow (The Economist, 2020). The International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicts a loss of up to $113 billion in revenue for the industry.
Change is the only constant and for many entrepreneurs, crisis is an opportunity. As for those providing essential services, their businesses have boomed and some Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) manufacturers have become billionaires overnight (Lee, 2020). This can be seen in Figure 3, wherein theirstocks have surged to an all-time high.
Figure 3. Table describing PPE manufacturer’s stock surge. From The gloves kingdom has been minting new billionaires, by Y. Lee, 2020, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/international/business/the-gloves-kingdom-has-been-minting-new-billionaires/articleshow/76398106.cms
Unforeseen challenges arise during such times and addressing that challenge becomes a business. Thus, start-up firms have made robots to combat the current crisis. From deliveries of food and medicines to identifying infected zones and to even enforcing rules, robots lead the way (Murphy et al., 2020).
Figure 4. Robot being used for delivery in the UK. From Robots have demonstrated their crucial role in pandemics - and how they can help for years to come, by Murphy et.al, 2020, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/05/robots-coronavirus-crisis/
What Lies Ahead
The world has always been at a risk of a Coronal Mass Erection (CME), which can cause the planet to be out of electricity for months, or even years (The Economist, 2020). Politicians have a tendency to ignore low probability catastrophic events, but the fact is, such events do happen. Although it is impossible to prevent them, their impact can be mitigated through warnings and back-up plans.
Thus, one lesson that can be learned for sure from the pandemic, is to prepare for esoteric events in the future.
In light of the views discussed above, it is possible that the world may not be the same place it was before 2019.
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