After a few weeks in lockdown, some countries are starting to open up their strict safe distancing measures and trying to revive their economies by opening non-essential businesses, shops and even bars and restaurants. China, who is ahead of the rest, is back to the “new normal”, although this has nothing to do with what we called normal a few months ago: public transport is at two thirds of the pre-covid19 capacity, restaurants are half empty, hotels occupied at a third of their capacity… the economy is at 90%, not 100%.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about what the world after covid-19 could look like and how we can help shape it into a better, not worse, world. That new world will come when we pass this crisis, but before that we will have to live a period of abnormality, which has nothing to do with our past lives, nor with the new world that may come when all this is over.
Nobody knows for sure how long we will have to live with Covid-19 amongst us, but it is very likely it will not go away on its own and we are not sure how long the immunity of those infected lasts, so it is safe to guess this virus will affect our everyday lives until an effective treatment or more likely a vaccine are found and can be made available to all of us. That may take a minimum of 18 or 24 months and upwards from there. We cannot have a world in lockdown for months or years, so we will have to find a way to cohabitate with the virus.
How and when to open up a lockdown and safe distancing measures is not a scientific problem with a clear solution, it’s an ethical and political dilemma with many interconnected factors.
It should be based on scientific research and data, but there will always be compromises, drawbacks, some people more affected than others and unknown consequences, so it is a very complex problem with no evident solution. Ease up too early, and you may have many preventable deaths, overwhelm the healthcare system and affect the economy anyway, keep the lockdown for too long and you are also damaging the economy unnecessarily, impacting on the mental health of people, on children’s education… Also, the lockdown is affecting more negatively the people with less resources, as more low-qualified staff are being laid-off, employees in the frontlines get more infected and people from minorities living in more densely quarters get affected disproportionately.
It is a complex decision, not to be taken lightly, with many different interlinked factors being affected in different ways: health and well-being, the economy, employment levels, the healthcare system, governments’ debt levels, poverty levels, inequality… I wouldn’t want to be in the skin of the politicians having to make these decisions right now. Still, it seems that in most countries governments are putting in place reasonably phased easing-up plans (except in some US states, where some governors seem too eager to open up their economies sooner than it might be advisable).
In order to open up and to keep the virus at bay and limit the risks of having a second wave, there are several measures governments must take. First of all, they must ramp-up their testing capabilities to test more people and faster, to see then who should be isolated or who shouldn’t. Secondly, governments should invest also in improving their contact tracing and monitoring. Thirdly, some norms of safe distancing have to remain in place in workplaces, shops, restaurants, etc. until a cure or vaccine have been found or the virus has been eradicated. Last but not least, people, especially those in the frontline in the battle against the virus, should be equipped with the adequate PPEs to limit theirs risks. Countries like South Korea and to a lesser degree Singapore, have contained the spread of the virus by using a combination of all these measures rather effectively.
As I said in my previous post, some governments and companies will create a false dichotomy and will ask us to choose between health and privacy. This is very tempting in the times we are living, but I still think we should have both.
When citizens give up some of their liberties in times of crisis, they don’t always get them back and they remain ingrained in the state machinery. What wasn’t acceptable before, it suddenly becomes a bit more so because there is a perceived threat and we prefer to feel safe. We can conduct effective testing of the population and effective contact tracing without impinging on everybody’s privacy.
With regards to companies, they have an important role to play in the opening of the economy. Their first concern should be the health and safety of their consumers and employees, and they all should be taking measures to pursue this aim. There are many great examples out there of companies changing the way they operate to do just that. In Sodexo, for example, we are in continuous communication with our clients, consumers and employees to look at our services, how they are delivered and how they can be improved. We have opened different channels to communicate with our clients at different levels in the organization. We are also reviewing all our services and adapting them to the “new normal” (more frequent cleaning and sanitization, for example) or even creating new ones we didn’t have have before (temperature tracking or different types of support to employees working remotely). We are cleaning more frequently than before, remodeling our restaurants and our clients’ workspaces to ensure safe distancing measures. As we operate in different segments, we are able to transfer the learnings and expertise we have acquired in the healthcare segment to others, like corporate services or education. In countries where we are back to opening our sites, like in China, our employees have received an array of memos, guidelines and e-learnings explaining the new operating procedures, safe distancing measures and they are self-monitoring their health every day.
As I argued in another post, companies’ purpose is not only to make money for their shareholders, they should also be committed to bringing benefits to all the other stakeholders, amongst them their own employees and the communities in which they operate.
In these difficult times, companies should take care of the people first, then all the rest, because that is the morally right thing to do and because it will benefit them in the long term. People will not forget how companies behaved in this crisis.
Fortunately, crises such as these bring out the best of people and we are seeing many acts of solidarity, generosity, compassion and kindness, from businesses and of course from healthcare workers, frontline employees, public workers, your neighbours and people in general. Even some political leaders, most of them women, have impressed us with their leadership and decision-making.
Alas, crises also bring out the worst of some people, and some other politicians haven’t shown the statesmanship and leadership required from them in times like these. Some of them have been denying the severity and the risk of this pandemic, playing blame games and looking for scapegoats to divert the attention from their dismal management of the crisis. In these times in which what we require the most is unity in front of our common enemy, the virus, some politicians have spent their times bickering, blaming each other and sowing divisions. This is not the way forward. Let’s find a solution first and when this is over, we can start to look at whose responsibility, if anybody’s at all, this disaster was and see what needs to be done to avoid something like this happening again.
Looking for culprits is not very constructive; looking for solutions, learning from what happened and putting in place measures to mitigate the risks of it happening again is.
I like this video. It is true, sometimes to fix something we need to break it first. Many things in our society are great and we have progressed a lot in the last century (if you don’t agree, I recommend you read Factfulness, it will open your eyes), not only in the “developed” world, but everywhere. We are getting better, but many things are still bad (extreme poverty, climate change, inequality, wars…). As more and more people are saying now, I don’t want to go to the old normal. We learn more from problems, errors and crisis, so let’s take the opportunity this crisis brings us, let’s learn and let’s change our ways, so the new normal we create, after this abnormal transition period we will have to endure until the virus is defeated, is a better normal and when we look back to this moment, years from now, we can say to our children and grandchildren:
“Ahh, 2020… that was a tough year, but it was worth all that suffering… because that’s the year we changed the world for the better”.