The world is in the midst of a once-in-a-century defining moment. Last week marked 100 days since WHO confirmed the first case of Covid-19, and it has been six weeks since a global pandemic was declared. A vast amount of change is upon us to fight the SARS-CoV-2 virus as it makes its way around the world. Our actions have slowed the spread, flattened the curve, and saved lives. But as we learn more about the virus and realise we are in this for the long haul, we're begged to consider how much of this change is here to stay. Well, here is a stab at what society could look like after 1000 days. Why 1000 days? Because it puts us nearly three years out. At which point we should start to have sufficient global quantities of medical tools – tests, treatment, and vaccines. Which means we would be at the beginning of our new steady state.
By day 1000, physical distancing will have become our norm. First out of prevention, then out of precaution, and then it will have brought some unexpected meaning. All aspects of our life outside-the-home will be impacted. Schools, theaters, public transportation, airplanes, shops, nursing homes, restaurants, bars, places of worship, manufacturing and construction sites, and offices. Space will have been infused so that we sit, work, play, queue, and interact with sufficient distance or barrier. From the clear plastic between us at the grocery store check-out to distance markings on the floor to restaurant seating. What started as retrofits will have become included in building codes and will have eventually spurred new architecture. Finding sufficient space will of course be more challenging on island- or geographically locked- locations, and all of it will require public and private sector investment. Space, space, space will have become the new location, location, location.
Working from home (WFH) will represent the majority of our work week. Building on an emerging trend and expanded by social distancing measures, there was no turning back from office employees working remotely. Some businesses will have foregone costly office space entirely and only periodically convene employees in-person. Perhaps the four-daywork week will emerge. The reduction in the number of people commuting will have positive return on the environment. It may also slow down the dominant trend of urbanization. Cities will have less traffic and more pedestrian streets. It could reinvigorate a new suburban and rural life.
To comply with distance rules, schools will have moved to a blended approach of in-person and remote learning and to manage this, there will have been an increase in teacher-to-student ratios and physical space of schools. This will have triggered new investment. After school programmes and activities will have been reduced to a minimum. The post-Covid demographic, parallel to the WWII baby boom will be enrollment in public health programmes or other humanities fields to put people and planet first. The number of international students will have dropped.
From security queues to airplane seating, the air travel experience will be more spacious. New seating configurations will reduce the number of passengers on a plane, perhaps by as much as half. Which will help the environment but will double costs. As a result, we will travel less.
Our yellow immunization card, digitized of course, will need to show a positive antibody test result or Covid-19 vaccination in order for us to travel, attend large events, and take public transport.
We will look back at pre-Covid times and think we were quite unhygienic. Our subways, buses, city streets, schools, gyms, and manufacturing sites will be regularly disinfected. Hand washing stations and hand sanitizer will be widely available. Face masks will be our fashion statement. Shaking hands will have moved to the bow, nod or foot tap.
Our goods and services will come via near-shored supply chains. Businesses will be buying components, and will be manufacturing, closer to home. Not as a means of nationalism, but so they are more resilient, agile, and environmental. Consumers will look to buy local.
Businesses will reset how workers are treated and paid. Minimum wages will rise, and rates of increase of CEO salaries will not be so outpaced from their workers. How a company treats its employees will have more impact on consumer choices.
Our entertainment – music festivals, sports theater, film/tv productions and museums – will have been forced to reinvent their customer experience after experiencing gaps in content and revenue. Golf, singles tennis and timed competitions happening in separate locations or in serial, will be our sports entertainment. Gaming, animation and virtual experiences will fill the gaps until production can catch up after the vaccine is widely available. The growth in virtual experiences will last.
The cost increases for physical distance and near-shoring will result in people buying fewer and more expensive goods and services. We will also have made a rapid shift to virtual services and our overall consumption will have decreased.
We will have embraced the less frantic life and have more influence over our pace to reflect our individual biorhythm and household preference (‘I am my most creative from 5-7am,’ ‘I prefer evenings’). WFH is a big influence of this as is blended school. Face-to-face time with others may be less frequent but more important and more purposeful – used to encourage, support, process and strategize.
There will have been a radical scale-up of telemedicine with in-person visits reserved for more serious or verified needs. Our focus on prevention will mean we will have wearables to monitor our vitals and trigger healthy behavior. Combined with AI, our health care will be more personalised and patient centric. There will be a massive expansion of health insurance, including micro-insurance. We will have a fresh understanding of the power of prevention and the impact of vaccines.
But we will not all be on this track for this simpler, more distanced, more environmentally friendly, and more expensive life. Certainly not without bold steps to remedy long-standing inequities in our societies, perpetuated by structures and systems. SARS-CoV-2 exploited and brought to light society’s injustices. With bold leadership, we will have made systematic reviews of our legal, justice, social, education and financial systems and removed, rewrote, retrained, and financed-out the root causes of injustice that have silently determined outcomes for generations. We will have begun the shift from people experiencing an intergenerational, downward cycle of lack to an upward cycle of inclusion and provision.
In the end, to the extent a Covid-19 measure gives us quality over quantity, hopefully it will have remained.