As lockdown starts to lift, we enter into the (I hope literally) post-mortem stage of coronavirus. This stage will probably go on for a long time, as long-term impacts gradually reveal themselves. For now, there are relatively few answers, but lots of questions, and I wanted to jot down these questions before we move too far out of this liminal space and back into something that passes for normal – however deeply changed that “normal” may be.
This has been such an unusual few months that it may be hard to imagine our way back into it once it’s over. There are, for sure, lessons to be learned. So before we hurtle back into our pre-COVID busy-ness, I hope we will pause for just a moment longer to make time for a global debrief on what we can learn. We could just keep blundering on, convinced of our own rightness, or we could – and I believe, should – do some profound soul-searching around issues of social justice, healthcare, economic (in)equality, leadership, crisis response, and geopolitical governance.
Let’s make sure that the hardship suffered by so many – physical, emotional and financial – has not been in vain.
In no particular order, here are my questions so far. If you have others to add, please do so in the comments.
In some countries, surveillance was used to great effect to contain the spread of the virus. How much surveillance is desirable? Justifiable? Can surveillance be limited to positive uses and not subject to negative abuses?
How can we take an Upstream approach? What were the root causes of COVID-19? Humans expanding into animal habitats? Intensity of human population? Amount of air travel? All of the above? What else?
What has been best practice during the outbreak? South Korea? Singapore? Is it possible to create a one-size-fits-all best international response?
Conversely, what has been worst practice? Many died in India when people only had 4 hours’ notice of lockdown, and many migrant workers died on their way back to their villages. How to avoid these humanitarian disasters?
What will the next global crisis be? It may not be a pandemic, but for sure there will be something – possibly climate change related. How can we be prepared?
How can humanity collectively be better prepared for future crises? Do we need coordinated global scenario planning? How can we reconcile the global best interest with issues over national sovereignty?
What did we learn that we can do without? Business travel? So much shopping?
What did we learn that we love? Clear skies? Less traffic congestion? Our neighbours? Hugs?
How can we build more resilient supply chains? Do we need more local food production? More local manufacturing? More cottage industries?
How can we build capacity in our healthcare systems? More hospital beds, especially ICU?
What other systems have been under pressure recently? Fire fighters for wildfires, for example? How can we ensure they have the resources they need?
How was the global economy impacted? And what sectors of humanity were worst hit by those impacts? How can we make the system better able to withstand shocks? How can we better distribute the impacts, and/or reduce impacts on the most vulnerable?
How did people react? What human traits became more evident, both positive and negative? What can we do with that information to help us respond with greater dignity and public spirit in the future?
What industry sectors were most needed? Were they adequately resourced, in terms of numbers of staff and quantities of essential equipment? How can we improve that situation in the future?
What industry sectors were hardest hit? What countries? What demographics? What socioeconomic groups? How can we support those people, both in the immediate aftermath, and in the longer-term future?
Knowledge workers were generally less hard hit than workers in industries requiring physical personal contact. Is it an unavoidable fact that some sectors will always be harder hit, or are there ways we can improve resilience both at an individual and a societal level? Would it help to expand internet access to the 4 billion people who still don’t have it?
Are there economically viable ways to improve financial security across the board? Could a version of Universal Basic Income be an answer? Complementary currencies? At least worth more experiments?
What styles of political leadership did we see across the world during the crisis – not just national leadership, but also city mayors, county and state leadership? What leadership strategies worked best? Which failed? Thinking beyond pandemics, what leadership qualities are likely to work best in an uncertain future? (Ah, I’ve just written a doctoral dissertation about that!)
What flaws in our social structures did the pandemic highlight – political, economic, social, technological, legal, environmental? What can we learn from this experience? How can we address those flaws?
What strengths in our social structures did the pandemic highlight? How can we reinforce and reward those strengths?
What are the dangers as the world emerges from the pandemic? What short-term, possibly necessary, tactical measures would be undesirable as permanent features?
How will society and human interactions have changed? How can we measure the impacts, positive and negative? What might people want to pay attention to in order to avoid a “social isolation hangover”?
If COVID-19 was a mirror, what did we as humanity see in that mirror that we can learn from?
And some questions that we may want to take some alone-time to ponder…
When faced with our own mortality, what became clear to us?
If we felt fear, what were we most afraid of? What does that tell us about ourselves? How can we build resilience so as to mitigate that fear?
What did we learn about what really matters? When faced with an existential threat, what things seemed most important?