17 November 2019. That date will forever be ingrained in the history books. The date the pandemic started. Today it's been 1 year, 8 months, 1 week, and 1 day since it started. More than 193 million cases have been confirmed. Over 4 million deaths have been reported. Lockdowns once unimaginable are now the norm for vast swathes of the developed and developing world. Economies have tanked, rebounded, and then tanked again. Lives have been totaled.
Have been. That's all in the past now.
Vaccine successes are beginning to unravel the pandemic. Normality returns, though not as you knew it.
So, as we pick up the pieces of our fractured economies. As we begin to emerge – like hermits from our caves blinded by the light – what pandemic lessons can we draw? What, if anything, have we learned?
Digital Is No Substitute For Real Connection
"If I could go back in time," laments the failed investor. "I'd buy Apple stock in the '90s." Now, those same investors are kicking themselves over Zoom – the company that became a verb. In 2020 alone, Zoom's stock price increased by a monumental 450%, driven by lockdowns and remote working.
That's a boon for innovation. For the futurists who predicted people no longer needed to commute: that the future of work was from home.
Except, far from the connective, social internet we were promised in the early 2000s, the mass experiment with the virtual world has left millions isolated and alone. In the US, loneliness amongst over 50s doubled from 2018 to 2020. Meanwhile, rates of psychological distress increased sixfold for young adults and quadrupled for 30-to-54-year-olds.
Unless companies and society-at-large account for the isolation of remote work, the mental health crisis has only just begun.
Just In Time Supply Chains Ran Out of Time
Back in 1817, the economist David Ricardo argued that countries should focus on their biggest advantages and sell those goods to other countries. You sell microchips; we sell medicines. That concept formed the bedrock of globalization in the 20th century. Supply chains wrapped around the world, with components often arriving days or even hours before they were needed for production.
Global pandemics have a way of reframing things, however.
Now companies are reevaluating their supply chains. Indeed, Toyota has invested in new tech to enhance supply chain resilience. Creating databases to visualize supply networks can help rapidly identify components at risk, diversify manufacturers, and alter designs accordingly.
Governments are also increasingly concerned about medicine, ventilator, and PPE shortages early in the pandemic. Vaccine nationalism is now the latest battle.
Globalization is unlikely to reverse entirely. But expect essential equipment to be produced much closer to home.
Learning Our Lesson
That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach. – Aldous Huxley
Perhaps the greatest lesson the pandemic taught us is that you cannot control the world. History unfurls and sprawls entirely of its own accord. Society chugs along under its own momentum. Learning our lessons, patching our problems requires us not to react but to prepare. Yesterday's problems will not be tomorrow's. Few in 2019 predicted a global pandemic. Thus, if we are to learn the pandemic's ultimate lesson, we must become more resilient. Failure to do so means more chaos is not only possible but inevitable.