Monday, May 11, 2020

When will the Covid-19 pandemic end? Looking at life beyond lockdown

With nearly half of mankind under some form of government-imposed lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, the end of the Coronavirus Pandemic seems to be front and center in our minds. Almost all of us are struggling with answers to questions like “When will the Covid-19 pandemic end? “how will this end?” and “when will life get back to normal?”

In a recent NYT Article, Dr. Jeremy Greene, a historian of medicine at Johns Hopkins explains that “pandemics typically have two types of endings: the medical, which occurs when the incidence and death rates plummet, and the social, when the epidemic of fear about the disease wanes.”
When people ask, ‘When will this end?,’ they are asking about the social ending. One can argue that we are already seeing the social ending to the Covid-19 pandemic saga.

New-normal: Social Distancing and telecommuting at work

During the past few months, nearly all economic activities around the globe came to an abrupt standstill for weeks on end as leaders began reacting to the outbreak of Coronavirus pandemic across the globe.

Business leaders, who quickly moved to shutter operations in line with national and local lockdown regulations, began watching the unrolling of the restrictions in parts of the world with reduced cases of COVID-19.  In many organizations, especially in the technology sector, telecommuting and work-from-home became the norm.

Company-men – self included – were quick begin parroting phrases like ‘new normal,’ surreal, once-in-a-generation and unprecedented times while trying to come to grips with the uncertainty of the pandemic.

What does end-of-lockdown feel? Not very different

By all accounts, the social ending to the lockdowns and restrictions isn’t going to be as dramatic or abrupt as the start. For one, people are willing and ready for such a change; and many are yearning to go back to life as it was.

The other day, I was in a zoom session with a colleague from China that was among the first nations to rollback lockdown restrictions. After weeks of working from home, employees there are back to work wearing masks, learning to live with additional social distancing norms and ubiquitous temperature checks at offices and all public places.

While people have begun to get back to work, and factories and manufacturing have resumed, the gears of the broader economy are slower in turning forward. Leaders around the globe are closely watching the Chinese blueprint to either follow along or modify as their situations dictate.

Onward to ‘new normal’ or back to old-normal?

After two consecutive nationwide lockdowns spanning one-and-half months, the Indian government announced a slow easing of the curbs with a ‘partial’ lifting of lockdown last week. By the end of the week, it felt like a giant had woken from its slumber. One can already see a few minor traffic jams accompanied by honking on roads by restless motorists. Shops have started opening, and it almost feels like ‘social distancing’ is a thing of the past. In the narrow grocery aisles masked-customers are back to shoving each other while selecting vegetables and fruits; the six-feet-rule be damned.

While it was jarring to see the American President abruptly rollback federal restrictions, leaving state governors to work through a hodgepodge of local regulations, he doesn’t seem to be alone.  After reacting strongly to address the outbreak of pandemic, government leaders around the world seem to be certain of one thing: they cannot indefinitely lockdown societies while awaiting a vaccine for Coronavirus, or for the death rates to plummet.

Commerce, just like life itself, must go on

States and cities around the world that have slowly lifted lockdown bans are beginning to see economic activity resume. While multinationals and large companies are being cautious in re-starting operations, small businesses are already rolling up their shutters.

Government officials are beginning to parrot how “people must learn to live with the virus” while following prevention guidelines.” Just as the crisis-management and pandemic-preparedness of governments across the globe was uneven, the way individual communities around the globe move forward after lockdowns is going to be asymmetrical.

With governments around the world finally abdicating their role in combating this deadly virus, the ‘end’ of the Covid-19 pandemic is going to be a bit of an anti-climax. And in a way, the much awaited new-normal may not look or feel very different. At least not in the short term.

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