Are there positives from the Current COVID-19 Crisis?

For the last few weeks (and months) the entire day is filled with the news from Corona Virus (COVID-19). In a cliched sense, the only story in town is COVID-19. The news is all about disaster, death and gloom. As human-kind ,we are focussing only on the negative impacts on us during this period. Are we even looking at any positive elements?

Let’s explore the positives from a few different dimensions:

Social:

Aristotle: “Man is by nature a social animal”.

As civilizations have evolved, the way we have socialized has changed dramatically. In the 21st Century, the social interactions typically happened in public places such as Pubs, hotels, market places etc leaving the family interactions to a minimum and in-some cases the interactions within the family has come to a grinding halt. The typical hustle and bustle of normal life left people with limited time, often referred to as quality time. COVID-19 has resulted in multiple governments enforcing severe restrictions on movement forcing people to spend the entire day within the confines of their family homes and spending time with their near and dear. The quality time now includes board games, binge-watching TV shows together as a family, discussing varied topics ranging from schools to politics and deriving the simple joy of enjoying each other’s company.

The self-isolation and curtailing of people’s movement has also resulted in a huge rise of pet adoption during the last few days that pets have become the “next shortage” after the shelves in the supermarkets.

COVID 19 has allowed us to increase the “quality time” and has resulted in improved social bonding at home.

Economic:

Maxwell Maltz: “Close scrutiny will show that most ‘crisis situations’ are opportunities to either advance, or stay where you are.”

The recession caused by COVID-19 has created an opportunity to spend less and save more, create new business out of a crisis and repair city infrastructure without disrupting business.

COVID-19 is significantly impacting the goods purchases that are regularly purchased throughout the week as seen in the figure below.

Figure 1: Source: GeekWire Consumer Grocery & Beer, Wine and Liquor Store Spend (in the US)

The irony depicted in the graph above is the consumer spending on Spirits has increased while the grocery spend has declined sharply. This poses the key question “ What’s essential” ?

People are questioning wants versus needs more and purchasing less on-line and doing more cooking at home. Some are savoring the aromas coming from their own kitchens for the first time. People are simply not spending money on non-essentials which means they have the opportunity to save more.

The graph below shows the decline in Lodging spend as a result of people staying at their homes.

Figure 2: Source: GeekWire Consumer Lodging Spend (in the US)

COVID-19 has challenged business owners to re-invent their business models and be more creative. Restaurants that did not have a take-out model had created new business models overnight to stay in business. Grocery stores that had no grocery curb-side pick-up had to rapidly put in place processes and tools to take advantage of the consumer restriction to drive-by pick-up only. These changes are even visible in the local Mom and Dad owned Convenience stores which have started providing home delivery services.

With less people on the streets, the city engineers can complete much needed road, sidewalk, and bridge repairs faster and cheaper. Essential works that were accomplished in the wee-hours of the day spread across multiple weekends can now be performed uninterrupted during the day time. By the time , the COVID-19 subsides and people return to work they may be pleasantly surprised to see a much improved infrastructure including streets, sidewalks, and bridges.

The biggest economic lesson from COVID-19 is that people can certainly live with what we have got. “The recession won’t be over till we raise a generation that knows how to live on what they’ve got”.

Environmental

B F Skinner: Must we wait for selection to solve the problems of overpopulation, exhaustion of resources, pollution of the environment and a nuclear holocaust, or can we take explicit steps to make our future more secure? In the latter case, must we not transcend selection?

The pollution levels (air pollution in particular) have come down dramatically in the last few weeks. An article in The Guardian shows the figures comparing 2019 and 2020 pollution levels in a few countries (China, Italy and UK among others)

Figure 3: Source: The Guardian Pollution Levels in China in 2019 and 2020

If changes in human behaviour even for a short period of time can result in such a visible impact on the environment, one can only wonder about the great results that can be achieved if a planned and concerted global action is undertaken.

Technology

Viola Davis:I guess they say, “Necessity is the mother of invention” because you have two stark choices when you find yourself in a really desperate situation. You can either fold and cave-in to it or you can become really passionate about getting out of it”

If you watch or follow the media 24*7, you might have come to the conclusion that we have folded and caved-in to the COVID-19. However nothing could be further from the truth. Organizations (both big and small) have leveraged technology to keep the world moving.

Digital technologies to support Working From Home (WFH) has been available to the masses for a number of years (in fact decades) yet the adoption even by high-technology companies were poor. We had millions of people criss-crossing the globe like crazy to work on engagements. Yet in the last 3–4 weeks, most of the world has been reasonably productive using collaboration tools such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex etc. In fact, most of these tools and companies have now become household names of even a technology laggard. The world has now realized that we can work remotely and still produce tangible business outcomes and as we embrace this model more, the efficiency will only go higher.

One of the mitigation strategies for COVID-19 is the self-isolation of both infected/suspected cases. These cases are identified using a “Contact-tracing” process which is largely done manually. The manual process relied on the recall and memory of an infected person. The infected person is generally struggling to breath and yet we rely on key information from them. The City-state Singapore has built an app “TraceTogether” that leverages technology to quickly and easily identify the contacts of an infected person. Needless to state that Singapore has become a role-model for countries on how to better manage this COVID-19 crisis.

Countries (developed and developing) are struggling to administer tests for the masses. The conventional tests takes day(s) or even longer to come back with results.

Abbott Laboratories has come up with a toaster sized device that can detect COVID-19 in a matter of minutes. It delivers positive results in as little as 5 minutes and negative results in 13 minutes. This can be used outside a traditional hospital setting such as the local General Practitioner or a nursing home.

Working from home or remote working is now taken seriously and the businesses are tooling and training to make effective use of Digital collaboration tools. This is a first for most of these technologies to become the standard way of operating. There are many more advances in technology that are being put to use to beat the war on COVID-19. We certainly found ourselves in a desperate situation and we became passionate about leveraging technology to get out of it.

Education:

Edsger W. Dijkstra: “There should be no such thing as boring mathematics.”

If you ask most school kids, one of their dreaded subjects would be mathematics. Equations and graphs are not things that most students enjoy. Thanks to COVID-19 now every one knows about graphs/curves with the most widely used phrase(es) in recent times — “ Exponential growth” and “Flattening the Curve”.

CDC produced the following graph in 2017 which provides a community mitigation strategy.

Figure 4: Source: CDCGoals of community mitigation for pandemic influenza

This looks a bit complex for a common man/student. However in 2020 during the current COVID-19 Crisis, the same graph has been adapted with an astounding result. People across the globe (literate, semi-literate and illiterates) have been able to understand the following picture and how it impacts their society, country and world as a whole.

Figure 5 : Source: New York Times — Flattening the Coronavirus Curve

Now if, maths (and Sciences) were taught using real-life information and data that students can relate to the outcome would be pretty different. Such an approach would make William Thurston’s statement come true. “Mathematics is not about numbers, equations, computations, or algorithms: it is about understanding.”

Conclusion

Every crisis including the current COVID-19 crisis has a silver lining. We need to learn the lessons from this episode and make the world a better place for us and for the generations to come.

Co-author

CDR/Open Banking Solution architect working with one of the large Australian banks. Skilled in general solution architecture and early adopter of technology