Learning all the lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic might be too early. However, a few undeniable facts have come from what we have recently seen in how countries and the private sector responded. When the outbreak hit, at a citizen level, we witnessed several phases that are more or less similar for most of the countries directly concerned by the public health issue:
The first phase of data and information gathering about the virus and its transmission mode. Such a stage was more about meeting the virus and understanding it better for a quick medical response.
Given how long it is taking to find a cure, the only viable, preventive, and temporary solution has been, at the very least, to mitigate the virus propagation, locally and internationally. The consequences are mobility restriction measures: curfews and lockdowns, physical distancing, domestic and international travel banns, borders and markets, and school closures.
The third phase responded to the fear that the pandemic would become a food and economic crisis. Countries provided subsidies to support the industries and the private sector, cash transfers, and food aid for the most vulnerable communities.
The fourth phase focuses on crisis management with monitoring and evaluation processes, strategy re-assessment, and reinforcement of health facilities’ capacities.
The last phase has been to emerge from the confinement measures slowly.
It is worth noting that the phases mentioned above are not happening sequentially, which means that a stage is not necessarily starting when the previous one is terminated. For some countries, several steps are still operating simultaneously.
This post shares a few thoughts on how COVID-19 propelled digital technologies from the “convincing” stage to the “adapting and sustaining” stage, how social interaction might be even more valuable than before, and how the economy has been the driving factor in decision-making, as of late.
Digital technologies are finalizing the revolution to becoming the norm.
History has shown us how resourceful human beings can be in adopting new technologies in society. When automobiles were first created, several protests stressed how dangerous it could be for people and horses to share the same outdoor space. Such claims triggered the design and creation of regulatory frameworks such as traffic laws, road signs, training, and driver licensing. What could be learned from that is even though automobiles started to be adopted at that time, the transition from early adopters to massive adoption needed one additional step, which was regulation: a set of rules that everyone needed to be aligned with, a sense of protection for users and non-users. The same trend has been happening to digital technologies in recent years. Data privacy, ethics, social alienation, and the environment have been the major criticisms of digital technologies’ widespread use. Policymakers have been tackling the issue with regulations: privacy laws and ethics committees are designed and set up to plug the hole.
The pandemic catalyzed broader adoption and more sustained use of digital technologies. The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted how digital tools support office workers’ activities via teleworking, conference calls, and increased paperless transactions and money transfers with mobile money technology. A sizeable online conference with 300 people, including plenary and breakout sessions, can be mirrored as in-person convening. The event would be less expensive - no plane tickets to buy, no convention center to rent, no hotel rooms to book, no food to order - and more efficient (facilitators can bring you to your breakout session with one click and bring you back in the plenary session with the same action). Welcome to the future, now.
Social and physical interactions might be more valuable than before.
Humans are social animals. They can hardly live without interacting with their family, friends, or colleagues. For instance, babies start by not being able to talk. Social interaction and learning or mimicking their immediate environment are essential to becoming fully fluent in one language. Given that paramount need versus the physical distancing rule introduced with COVID-19, physical and social interactions might be more valuable than before. The rationale behind such an assertion is that human beings put a particular value on scarce things.
Even if social interactions were allowed again, people’s fear of contamination - which is legitimate given the increasing number of cases - would prevent us from being excited about any gathering, despite the intense desire to attend or be part of the group.
The economy is driving more than the market.
One thing that COVID-19 also showed is how influential the economy is. The only logical reason for airports, borders, and businesses to reopen is economical. Here is an apparent paradox: borders are re-opening while, in some countries, the number of cases is still increasing. The undergoing debates can be reframed succinctly as: Is the economy more important than human lives?
Human lives are important and valuable. We all agree that no human life should be lost by negligence, but given no cure has been found yet, let us picture what extended mobility restrictions measures would look like for our societies. Wouldn’t we be heading to significant food and social crises if we take that route for developing countries with less economic resilience and food production efficiency? Our markets are mostly informal, and most of our population works today to feed their families the next day. What reactions could we expect if they are not allowed to go and work for their living? My point is that, at a country level, thinking by encountering each individual is complex. The sample size is too big to target each element. There is a need to think holistically and consider the bigger picture. Suppose most people will suffer from mobility restrictions measures. In that case, the risk of a more significant crisis than COVID-19 is accurate, as the population will take action for survival.
Opinions are my own.