This Is How Covid-19 Will Change Us Forever
Towards the end of 2020, I had great plans about a regular column: 2020 Vision Presented By The Guardian. Like many others, I had so many positive visions for the new decade, not only my own ideas, but visions for the new decade from lenses of others. The last piece I wrote and published on February 22 was about the film Eyimofe.
Since then, I have struggled to find it appropriate to continue the 2020 Vision campaign. But I happened to stumble across this piece below. Perhaps it’s not simply a “2020 Vision” but a prediction about how we may be viewing the world, not just during this new decade, but for time.
I live in Nigeria, where income is one the most disparate of the world, with 33 per cent of the population living in poverty. Am I afraid of the current pandemic? Most definitely! I don’t know when and how this will end, but I do make an effort to help others during a crisis. I have bought food packs for people that have reached out for help, I have also cooked some basic meals to distribute to people that live in my neighbourhood.
I know it’s not enough, but if everyone in a similar situation as myself steps up and does the same, then collectively, we may be able to hold up the underprivileged until this storm passes. A small contribution of basic meals to 5, 10, or even 100 people will go a very long way. Oftentimes, being kind and generous is a thankless job and without reward, but not to worry. If only one person out of the 100 that you have helped returns the favour to someone else, then kindness will spread faster than any deadly virus and it will “infect” a billion people in no time.
In spite of the far-reaching impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on individuals, families, businesses, the global economy and social structure, history continues to demonstrate that humans are able to adapt easily and will eventually recover (albeit in different versions) from this pandemic. However, this comeback will not be a matter of “everything back to normal” (i.e. a pre-COVID-19 order). A new way of living, working and social interaction will emerge, and we will be defined by lessons learned and prioritisations of the most important aspects of human motivations.
Abraham Maslow demonstrated this in his theory of “Hierarchy of Needs”. At the bottom of the pyramid are the needs of food, water, warmth, and rest. Moving up a level is safety and security. Moving upwards are the needs of belonging, relationships, friends. At the higher levels of motivation, we have need feelings of accomplishment, prestige and above all, self-actualisation.
Being at the higher levels of the pyramid are luxuries that only some are fortunate to have. During the pandemic, this group of people has dropped rapidly; a level or even several levels from feeling “at the top of their game”, finding that they cannot pay rent and have lost their source of income. Overnight, priorities shifted from what we considered normal to dire.
We were used to hanging out with friends at the bar debating whether the new car from Corvette was better than a Porsche. Now we are struggling in isolation without friends and families, worrying about bills and rapidly dwindling bank accounts that may only last a month or even a couple of weeks. The prospect of going from not worrying about food to worrying about hunger next week is scary. Furthermore, it is not unrealistic to envisage more civil unrest and potential violence from people suffering and acting out of desperation.
According to the World Bank, there are 734 million people living in poverty that make less than $1.90 per day, which is about 10 per cent of the global population. If the threshold was $5 per day, that figure would amount to billions. These people in poverty are not spread out evenly throughout our planet; in many countries, the levels of poverty reach 30 per cent, and some as high as 45 per cent. The pandemic has pushed the global population down two levels. The low income population already living in the bottom two levels have nowhere else to go except dire life-threatening hardship and must fight day and night to stay at the bottom two levels.
That said, if you are one of the lucky ones at the higher levels, and have fallen a level or two, you are still above the newly created extreme and dire levels. You may think that you are helpless with your newfound concerns about food and safety, but please remember that you are maintaining yourself at multiple levels and can – and must – become creative in helping others. Self-actualisation can now be attained by sacrifices in an effort to help others in need, and backup rainy day funds will go a long way to save the lives of families for several days.
Helping others and ourselves can only be effective if we are armed with the knowledge of what the future will bring. Although there are no clear answers or timelines of what and when this pandemic will be over, what we can be sure of is that the return to normalcy will be slow and gradual. Also, many aspects of the “normal” we have been used to will change for the long term. To assist with understanding what may change, I have come up with several predictions of life post COVID-19.
The distinction between and school and home will blur. Many academic organisations will realise that a bulk of the learning can happen online. As a result, campuses will become less crowded, thus being able to support more students. An “odd/even” days regime may exist where, depending on the day, you may or may not be required to physically be on campus. This will alleviate the fear of not being able to maintain enough distance between each student. I call this “thinning out” and will refer to the term frequently below.
Thinning out of pre-COVID-19 dense areas
We will begin to see a thinning out policy for any place of where people were typically in close physical proximity. Several methods will be used. One method is to split a bunch of people into groups, e.g. Group A, Group B, Group C, or even “Odd” and “Even”. Then depending on the day or policy, only a certain group are allowed out. The second method is rate limiting the flow of people, so that existing venues with a large capacity will reduce their capacity by 50 per cent or even 80 per cent so that when people are at the venue, they will have ample physical distance between them.
Places hosting more than 50 people such as movie theatres and arcades were the first to stop operating due to social distancing requirements and therefore the movie theatre of the future will shift online where multiple people can watch the same film while having a social interaction of making comments and remarks about the film. Generation Y and Generation Z are already consuming most of their content on computer, tablets and phones anyway.
Restaurants will need to pivot their business models to a delivery service and once lock down orders are eased, these restaurants will have to employ thinning out measures of having people physically distanced from each other. Very quickly people will realise that the social value of going to a restaurant has gone, and not being able to converse with people and friends at restaurants will become a deterrent. Some restaurants will start online dining areas using applications like Zoom, and Microsoft Teams. Patrons can order online and join an online room while having meals. This will bring a whole new type of experience to food with some becoming so popular that they will need to control who joins the rooms.
More than 50 per cent of existing airlines will collapse this year. Airlines that survive will increase their prices twofold and employ drastic measures of sanitisation. Sanitisation will be a differentiator even more valued than loyalty miles or food on the plane. Economy class seats will have at least one empty seat between each seat. Airlines will retrofit HEPA filters throughout the plane or retrofit hospital grade air filtering systems for the entire aircraft. New certification bodies will emerge which can set standards for hygiene, sanitisation and period testing where passengers and transparently see the results of such testing.
Other forms of public transit will follow along the lines of the airline industry. Queuing for boarding and disembarking will follow a much more orderly process to maximize physical distancing. There will be increased technology-based screening for passengers boarding and increased automation to prevent the touching of buttons. There will be a massive increase on the use of facial recognition systems to automate personal preferences and choices.
Healthcare, Health Habits and Changes
Obesity and alcoholism will become a problem as people become used to isolated sedentary lifestyles. Those without prior exercise discipline will gain weight and be more prone to hypertension and other cardiovascular diseases. Everyone who can get COVID (symptomatically or asymptomatically) is bound to get it by mid-June 2020, given the current trajectory exponential growth rate of infections – close to 40% of the global population. A worst-case scenario, that is, without measures to slow the spread, by June, the growth will begin to naturally taper down, and potential infection hosts would have developed immunity for the current strain of COVID-19 through past infection.
New strains of viruses will emerge and some people and governments will have to just continue with daily life instead of imposing another multi month lockdown, and just deal with the potential impacts of infection as it happens.
Telemedicine will advance with remote diagnoses increasing and patient: doctor ratios will increase out of necessity because the shortage of doctors will force doctors to operate more efficiently. Experienced doctors will share their knowledge and diagnostic capability to less experienced doctors over the Internet and a new class of medical professionals (somewhere between a doctor and nurse) who has only specific skills to handle infection related cases will emerge. Internet connected Vital sign sensors will become standards in every home, like bandages and blood pressure meters, and will cost less than $100.
Virus mutation rates will increase and although COVID-19 will have a vaccine, new rapidly emerging strains of the virus will occur faster than vaccines and treatments can be discovered. Pharmaceutical companies will have to streamline the drug testing/development cycle and use less human trials. Instead, AI based learning methods will be used to reduce the time to market, which will include real-time feedback from patients feeding back into AI algorithms.
Social Interaction & Smoking Habits
The way we normally accustom friendship and leadership through physical touch will change. Handshaking will become a taboo and western cultures will adopt Asian bowing as a more hygienic means of greeting. Some people who may attach a stigma to bowing may invent new non-contact methods. Friendly taps on the shoulders and hugs will be deemed insensitive and unhygienic. Kissing will become a taboo equivalent to unprotected sex during the peak era of the emergence of the HIV/AIDS. Facemasks will become the norm in most countries and new ways of being social without physical proximity will emerge.
The reduction of smoking and vaping is inevitable as with more people wearing face masks in public, it will be difficult to smoke while wearing one as it needs to be removed or adjusted to insert a cigarette or vape. Knowing that touching a mask can cause contamination, smokers and vapers will opt for an alternate way of stimulation, such as chewing tobacco, a social practice in Nordic countries.
Focus on Biosecurity
Physical security is already part of the norm and cybersecurity is a newer concept that’s currently creating momentum in the news. The next generation security is biosecurity, typically reserved for commercial operations such as farms and laboratories. Bio-security measures will make its way into domestic households and businesses and a new wave of biosecurity companies will emerge with a focus on cameras intelligence and this intel gathered through cameras and smartphones will be used to track infected people, contacts of infected people and people demonstrating high risk behaviour. Businesses such as restaurants and hotels will be rated based on their adherence to strict biosecurity measures.
Food and Production
Within the next five years, there’ll be a risk of food shortage because much of cross-border food trade will be reduced. Food safety/biosecurity will become a priority and restaurants will have a biosecurity as well as a food safety score. Robotic farming will exist to reduce the risk of infection, and people will prefer fruits and vegetables farmed by machines and robots over humans. The price of human farmed products will be less than half of robotically produced fruits and vegetables since they will be less desirable due to infection risk. “Ghost kitchens”, which are large warehouses and buildings operating in a shared space concept (similar to shared serviced offices) will grow. The price of takeout food will decrease by more than 30 per cent as these businesses will not have as much overhead and can handle a larger amount of orders.
The shift of energy requirements will change globally. It will change from fossil fuel based to renewable energy based. More specifically, the energy demand will be in the format of clean electricity and less of CO2 emitting combustion. Internal Combustion Engines (ICE) in cars will be used less. Many people will come to realise that much of what was done by car, such as commuting to work, can now be reduced due to remote working. Solar and wind power will become the primary methods of generating electricity and will allow for a fully autonomous energy generation unit where self-generation provides 100% of power in a home and enough to operate an electric vehicle.
Depending on the realisable levels of hygiene, there may be more or less cars on the road. Many people will be averse to using ride sharing unless it is fully autonomous and sanitation of the interior is automated and/or the driver compartment is completed sealed off from the passenger.
Sports & Outdoor Activities
These industries will experience big changes. Spectator sports such as basketball, football etc will no longer allow large numbers of fans to gather in person. Viewing of games on TV and via the Internet will become the norm. Parks and beaches will be in high demand, and many public place gatherings will require thinning out. In e-Sports, hundreds and millions of players can interact in a virtual world without physical contact.
Real Estate Property & Migration
The population that harnesses and adapts to these new changes in society will grow and prosper, and unfortunately, the remainder will not. Crime and poverty will increase and a dystopian society may emerge from poverty. Many people will move away from high-density large cities into rural areas to reduce the risk of being in close contact with too many people. As the demand for real estate will reduce in urban areas, the price of urban real estate will drop. Popular migration destinations will be areas of nice weather and plentiful beaches such as Hawaii.
Only staff who have cleared biosecurity requirements will be able to work from the office. Others will have to work remotely. Companies will come to realise that many staff who were apparently highly productive pre-COVID-19 were mainly absent during COVID-19 and subsequently not required, thus terminated. Rented spaces used by offices will shrink drastically. Factories will maintain their rental footprint.
Drones will become more popular
Regulatory management of drones accelerates and makes many things feasible. More drones are being used to replace delivery services for smaller items. Some countries will have dedicated drone corridors, which do not need to be coordinated with general or commercial aviation. Drones are not only used for deliveries, but also for security, with AI-based deep learning cameras used to surveil cities as well as private drones to surveil private businesses and residences.
Remote working to reduce population density from urban areas will increase the need for ubiquitous high-speed broadband. Mass deployments of fibre optic cables will happen in areas which were previously commercially not viable. New high-speed satellite based Low Earth Orbit (LEO) constellations such as SpaceX’s Starlink will beam high speed Internet to every corner of the planet. This will be useful for areas waiting for fibre to be deployed. The use of video chat/conference puts higher quality requirements for these calls. Users will now demand much higher audio fidelity and video quality. New types of etiquette from video conferencing will find its way into the real life.
Less fossil fuel consumption means less CO2 emissions damaging the environment, which leads to cleaner air. During this COVID-19 pandemic, many people noticed much cleaner air and bluer skies. I have noticed a drastic decrease in micro dust Particulate Matter (PM2.5) decrease from 100 micrograms per cubic meter to less than 6 micrograms per cubic meter in less than a week. A clean environment and clean air will become the norm, and climate activists will have nothing to complain about, as climate change ceases to be a problem.
Last of all, we will realise that the world we live in is amazing yet very sensitive. Fear of a potentially larger future pandemic will push technologists to advance research on interplanetary and even interstellar travel. Only 21 years ago, the thought of a space station orbiting the earth with people living on it was unreal and borderline ridiculous, yet a fascinating idea. After 21 years, living in space is a reality and feasible. Now the next step will be to prepare a future “Noah’s Ark” to preserve humankind in the event that a virus overtakes planet earth. Famous future words of the first person (maybe me) leaving planet earth to live on another planet: “So long planet earth, we have learned a lot from our irreversible mistakes, and now, we have no choice but to start fresh on another planet.” (Yen Choi, 2020)
Yen Choi is a technology entrepreneur and is currently the Group EVP/CTO for Netcom Africa, a pan African Network infrastructure and Managed Services company, and has made Nigeria his new home since 2003. In his spare time, he is an avid explorer and has travelled to many cities in Nigeria and across Africa to meet new people. He especially likes the similarities between Nigerian and Asian cultures, especially how life in both cultures revolves around food, respect to elders and kindness.
Edited by Anita Kouassigan