Life after Covid: Emerging trend shifts

Trend shift(/trɛnd ʃɪft/): Turn in a general direction; a deflection; an enduring change of emphasis

Behavioural science suggests that a notable crisis has the ability to permanently change long-term behaviour.  The more widespread the crisis, the more common the behavioural changes.

The Coronavirus pandemic is still playing out in all its waves of uncertainty and glimmers of hope.  It does however seem as if we can start to bank on at least three global trend shifts in our post-contagious world:

Trend 1: A further separation between place and function

The global lockdowns have dramatically escalated the severance of location and utility.

Millions of office workers, students, shoppers and travellers have been disconnected from their familiar settings and habits, overnight.  What seemed impossible in February was a norm three months later.  The physical legacy of the industrial economic model – and our lethargic, inflexible ways of keeping to it – was knocked off its pedestal in one fell swoop.

The migration from the physical to the virtual world is not new: When you asked people in recent years ‘where’ they bank, they were likely to point to their smartphones.  When you asked them ‘where’ they bought their books – they might have mentioned a store they have never physically visited.  They have accepted Netflix as their ‘movie theatre at home’ and allowed Siri and Alexa to become part of their households.  With the swipe of a screen, friends and families are reunited across oceans.   And through the power of virtual reality, young and old explored the summit of Mount Everest, the Amazon rainforest and strolled through Disneyworld.

Many people don’t plan to return to the old addresses of work, their previous outings to where crowds gather – or travel to destinations that they can visit on a digital platform.  A newfound cost-benefit appreciation, home-bias, atmosphere of convenience, and contagion alertness is likely to sprout in inventive ways for years to come.

We are most likely to get more and more alternative answers on questions such as ‘Where is your school’, ‘How late do you start working?, ’When do you leave for work?’, ‘Where is your office’ or ‘How much time did you spend at the office this week’; even ‘Where is your doctor’s consultation room?’; and ‘Where do you worship?’; or ‘Where is your voting station?’. Once some genies are let out of the bottle, they can’t be put back ever again.

Trend 2: A leap in preventative health care

In the past few decades, modern science has taken significant strides in the awareness of disease.  The pandemic has however exposed structural weaknesses in health services and a disconnect in medical science.  We are likely to see meaningful investments in healthcare infrastructure – and tighter collaboration – to improve response times and access to dynamic and reliable health care in times of crises.

Prevention and precaution will become important themes in our daily lives.  And indeed, we have already bent the arc of hygiene, albeit in a low-tech way; incessant sanitation, distancing, mask-wearing, contact prevention and immunity building.  On top of these organic habits, ‘digital alerts’ is likely to become the new buzzword, i.e. the use of modern data science and digital health technologies in the monitoring, prevention and eradication of disease occurrence; minimizing the negative impact of the disease – and ultimately prevention of death.

Terminology such as telehealth, implantable, self-monitoring (including wearables), robotics, bioprinting, secure patient data sharing, integration of AI, and assistive technologies are due to become part of every-day medical jargon.  Many of these innovations will originate outside the health care industry.  New policies and regulations will empower the business case for innovators.

Trend 3: A surge in Social Consciousness

It took a pandemic to highlight the spectre of old social ailments that the world continues to ignore.  The plight of the vulnerable entered the headlines through many symbols and avenues: George Floyd’s demise, violence against women and children during lockdown, the unavailability of PPE to healthcare workers, the education blackout for the digitally deprived and less fortunate segments of society, episodes of colonial reckoning, and the propagation of fear, hate and misinformation campaigns for political and ideological gain.

Many of us were educated as free-market proponents, raised to believe in the ‘wisdom of the invisible hand’ of the market – and that prices drive all equilibriums.  These market forces defied both rich and poor during the pandemic.  ‘GDP’ most probably had its time as foremost indicator of wellness.

We are challenged, for once and for all, to craft new models of social justice – and think again about social sustainability.  We have to become aware of the consequences of our exploitative nature and trajectory of polarisation.  It is clearer than ever that thoughtful policies are needed to bring the marginalised into the loop and the planet back from the brink.  The pandemic also reminded us that good government matters, during and after crises; that political leadership is a matter for serious, intelligent people.

The world clearly has the ability to act collectively; it had been proven in six months.  It is just a question of transforming political will – to establish a new social contract and reset our collective societal priorities.  We are all complicit if we do not resolutely confront and address the social ignorance of our times.

A crisis is a gateway between one world and the next.  The transition is tough and the economic fallout taxing.  But after destruction comes a second chance at life – and a burst of creativity.  Devastation drives landmark reforms and rejuvenates policy agendas.  Transformation follows.

We end this Mindful by bringing honour to the many frontline workers, who have demonstrated to the world what real heroism looks like.  We also pay tribute to the millions of less-privileged people who had to endure this crisis without the comfort of basic security; may your time have come.  And we salute the South African government who, despite the imperfections of implementation and unending criticism, took the threat serious from day one – and chose science above populism in their response.

Stay vigilant and safe!