Welcome to the Covidian Era!
November 29, 2023 by Alistair Enser
Can you believe it has been a full year since lockdown began!? People, economics, innovation, technology, travel, workplace, medicine – everywhere you turn the world is a very different place from where we began.
It may be true that Spanish Flu of 1918/19 was more deadly, but the personal impact of Covid-19 is significant nonetheless, and the economic impact is far larger with a dip of 24% in GDP recorded in the UK between February and April 2020, compared to a fall of 6 to 8% caused by Spanish Flu.
The virus will be around for some time yet, and flare-ups in countries where vaccination has not been prevalent are to be expected. Social distancing measures will remain in place for some time yet, and while the opening of the UK’s high streets in under a month is a cause for celebration, the experience may be very different to before.
I have no doubt, however, that the annals of history will look back at this time as a significant milestone and pivot point in the human evolutionary calendar.
Let’s look at three megatrends that will shape the world we emerge later next month, as the UK reopens again, and something approaching normality returns.
Health and Well-being, starting with vaccination
The UK is only in the enviable position to escape lockdown because of the unqualified success of its vaccination programme. This weekend, over half of UK adults had received their initial dose of the vaccine. I myself had my first dose last week at Lakeside in Surrey – the home of darts, turned into a well-run vaccination centre. My fears over how the jab would be delivered – syringe or well-thrown dart? – were unfounded! And I didn’t even get a free pint, but I would certainly recommend the vaccine to anyone who is unsure.
In many other countries, the situation is far less positive. Confusion about who should have the vaccine and fears over its effects have forced down vaccination rates in France, at the same time as large parts of the country are going into a new lockdown. The position is marginally better in Germany, but across the EU only 12 in 100 people have been vaccinated, compared to 35 in the UK and 41 in the US.
There is a feeling in the UK that things are getting better: happiness and life satisfaction among Britons, which had understandably dipped over the last six months, have risen in recent weeks. Consumer confidence is on the increase also, and rose seven points to minus 16 in March, according to research company GfK. To put that in perspective, in May last year it hit a low of minus 35.
But with all this positivity, are we all now headed for an annual or bi-annual jab, to stay one step ahead of Covid-21, 22, 23, 24? Let’s see…
At the same time, the enforced lockdown has undoubtedly forced many to review their life, their goals, their situation and their happiness. Notwithstanding the necessary actions required during lockdown there are many who will emerge with a different outlook on their priorities. This will undoubtedly have global impacts on all aspects of life and work as ‘wellness’ becomes a more dominant force.
Connectivity driving a greener future?
As I have written before, we have come to rely on technology during the pandemic, and it has made so many things possible – from keeping in touch with friends and family, to keeping businesses operational, even if workers are remote.
This week, the government announced the first stages of plans to get ultra-fast broadband to the remaining parts of the UK. Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden said: “We’ve gone from around 9% coverage in 2019 to 40% now – I’m confident we’ll get to 60% by the end of the year.” The plan is to get gigabit broadband to 85% of UK homes by 2025.
The last 20% of homes will be hard to reach as they are in the remotest parts of the country. But the news that 5G is being rolled out brings some compensation, as operator Three recently announced the launch of its first Ericsson 5G sites, which are now live in Manchester, Glasgow and Reading. 5G promises to be transformational for the way we work with technology, and claims that it will power a Fourth Industrial Revolution are, for once, not overstated. 5G will make high-speed machine to machine communication possible and will deliver massive amounts of data to businesses and consumers alike.
With the already reported environmental benefits of lockdown – for example, the much improved air quality in many major cities globally – there has been a strong re-focus on the ‘green agenda’. Electric car sales continue to rocket upward and the wider acceptance of technology and AI adopted during the pandemic, further supported by this improved connectivity, will almost certainly drive a positive global technology trend long after the pandemic has passed.
Transportation and Mobility
I don’t know what things will look like in the near future, but I have a very strong suspicion they will stay different from before.
At the height of the first lockdown, road use fell to levels last seen in 1955. And while travel by car has rebounded since, perhaps due to the greater safety it would seem to provide, public transport use is still low, at some 51% lower than baseline usage, according to Google. Will it ever recover?
Perhaps, but as the way we work changes, and many work from home, so the way we use public transport will change also. Already, the morning commute has changed to the effect that it is earlier than before, as construction workers and those in the service sector travel to their places of work earlier than those who work in offices. This has far reaching consequences: early morning energy use is now down also.
Perhaps buses will meet our changed transport needs? The government recently announced investment in public buses, with the aim of providing more frequent, reliable, easier to use and cheaper bus services. Or perhaps the continued development of electric vehicles will see more of these environmentally friendlier vehicles on our roads? In China, a budget electric vehicle has gone on sale for only $4,500 (£3,200), and is being marketed as “the people’s commuting tool”.
Ironically though, at the same time, sportscar manufacturer Lamborghini has announced record sales in 2020, largely down to the Chinese market, which is expected to become the company’s second-largest market this year, replacing Germany for the first time. Proof, if it was needed, that predicting the future is never easy!
I believe there is room for positivity as we take our first ‘hopeful’ steps from one of the most tumultuous periods in recent history. Whether we will be checking email on 5G devices from train carriages on our way to the weekly visit to the office, or letting an electric vehicle locate a charging spot on the high street before we visit a restaurant for a socially distanced meal – after fifty of these articles, I can’t help but feel a small breeze of optimism in the air.