Ideas for a post COVID-19 world

15 April 2020

by Randeep Sudan

Photo by Xavi Cabrera on Unsplash

The world will not be the same after COVID-19. We will need a holistic approach towards mitigating and responding to future pandemics. Here is a list of ideas touching upon areas that we may need to think about as we prepare for the future.

1. Economic

a. Economy: Introduction of a universal basic income to mitigate economic shocks for a large number of vulnerable people. Safety nets will become particularly important for vulnerable sections of society.

b.  Wealth inequality: Governments need to systematically deal with wealth inequality (over the medium to long term) to reduce social fissures, and generate resources needed to bolster health systems and keep the economy afloat.

c. Resource pooling: Governments need to contribute serious resources to a global effort that puts in place strong incentives for collaborating on research, and coordinating the global production and procurement of medical supplies. There are some ideas here, but these need to be even more ambitious. 

d. Business models: Businesses across the world will need to be evaluated on approaches that emphasize people, planet and purpose before profits.

e. Financing models: We may need to introduce rapid financing and disbursement models for companies to reorient and rejig efforts to deal with pandemics through the use of smart contracts.

f. Public vs private: The government may have to play the role of big pharma in order to bring down the cost of medicines and ramp up the supply of much needed medical supplies.

2. Human

a. Demographics: Given the higher vulnerability of older people to the virus, we need to systematically build spatial maps of demographic parameters that enable interventions that are much more specific, hyper-local, and targeted by levels of vulnerability.

b. Education: We need to create a common approach to credentialing for the future, so that we have better data on labor markets. Data on individual qualifications, experience, interests and aptitudes will prove vital to determining adjacency-pathing for skills so as to create a more fluid workforce. This would allow us to rapidly increase health workers for example, in any given location to deal with emergencies, besides allowing more adaptive and fluid responses to the future of work.

c. Training: A national program on digital twinning can prove very useful in creating new jobs and rapidly imparting skills using AR/VR. Training and managing nurses treating COVID patients could for example, be done more rapidly using immersive programs leveraging digital twinning.

d. Public health: There is a need for creating an uber cloud for data on health assets so that redeployment of such assets can be done with speed and efficiency across different health systems (both public and private). Remote medical services including remote diagnosis, and remote nursing may need to be supported.

3. Social

a. Society: We are likely to witness greater acceptance of big government and amplified surveillance. Dealing with pandemics requires a strong centralized decision making capability, both nationally and globally. Decision making hierarchies and processes may need to be revisited.

b. Culture: Cultural norms will need to change. The media could play a powerful role in promoting a culture of social distancing. It could also promote the importance of empathy, and compassion, and could give recognition to those working for the community.

c. Ethics: The coronavirus has brought ethical choices into sharp focus. How do we triage patients given limited medical resources? Society needs to develop ethical models that can help make these choices.


d. Values: We need to promote values that are more inclusive and promote unity and cooperation among people, as opposed to those that divide and promote faux nationalism and hatred.

4. Environment

a. Climate change: It will be important that governments do not encourage polluting industries when reviving the post corona economy. It is a good time to remove fossil fuel subsidies and to tax carbon emissions to generate resources to deal with the fallout of the corona pandemic.

b. Geo-politics: The only way that humanity can deal with a global pandemic is through global cooperation and coordination and not through inward looking nationalism. Sharing of data, research and information on the pandemic has to be a global effort with no restrictions on data flows across borders. The developing world will be hardest hit by the pandemic and will need serious help. Fiscal and monetary policies will need to be coordinated across countries if we are to successfully emerge out of the crisis.

c. Regulation: Regulation will be critical to dealing with the corona pandemic. Trade barriers for medical supplies may need to be removed, medical licensing may need to be revisited. Regulations to require production of critical medical equipment and supplies may need to be strengthened.

d. Risk: It will be important to conduct risk assessments for business continuity especially for supply chains for critical medical supplies and equipment.

5. Institutional

a. Governments: Dealing with a pandemic requires different parts of the government to function as one unified entity. Governments will therefore have to have better systems of command and control to deal with pandemics.

b. Companies: More companies are likely to embrace automation and robotics and diversify their supply chains to mitigate the risks in the event of future pandemics. However, governments may need to require companies to adopt labor enhancing technologies rather than labor substituting ones. Tele-welding as an example could allow a worker to remotely weld a part without needing to be physically present on the factory floor.

c. Non-profits: Funding for non-profits providing community safety nets is likely to see a sharp fall. Governments will need to think carefully how to support especially those non-profits that play a critical role during emergencies like pandemics - think Red Cross, United Way, food charities and many others.

d. Collective intelligence: Existing crowd sourcing platforms can be expensive and are not easy to use. Given the importance of crowd sourcing solutions to tackle the coronavirus, we need a new aggregation platform that can help bring together people from across the world to contribute solutions to the problem. The recent Global Hack using Slack is a good example. However, we need tools that are easy to use and cost effective.

6. Infrastructure

a. Media: We need to have better regulation of the media to ensure factual and timely reporting. Some media initially characterized the coronavirus as a hoax, lulling people into a false sense of complacency.

b. Telecom: We will need to revise our projections of the demand for bandwidth going forward, and strengthen our telecom infrastructure including redundancies.

c. Logistics: We need common trading platforms that leverage technologies like blockchain to facilitate faster processing of clearances, especially for medical supplies. Singapore's Networked Trading Platform is a good example, but needs to be adopted globally.

d. Energy: We will need to plan our energy infrastructure differently as the demand for travel comes down, and the demand for computing goes up. Moreover the resilience of energy infrastructure becomes all the more important during a pandemic. Imagine if the electricity grid goes off when thousands of people are on ventilators.

7. Technology

Digital technologies are a horizontal that cut across each of the areas of intervention mentioned above.