Article by: Khalid bajwa
Tuesday, 8 December 2020, is a landmark day for the UK and the world. A 90-year-old woman, Margaret Keenan, from Northern Ireland has become the first person to be vaccinated at University Hospital Coventry, England, outside the trial conditions marking the onset of the UK’s mass vaccination programme.
The COVID-19 pandemic has ruined economies, destroyed people livelihoods, resulted in the deaths of millions, and crippled many people with physical and mental scars. The pandemic is at its peak and is continuing to wreak havoc. Aviation, hospitality, tourism, sports, entertainment, manufacturing, agriculture indus- tries and high street retail bear the brunt of the devastation unleashed by the pandemic.
With the start of the mass vaccination programme, there appears a silver line and people are euphoric in the hope that life will return to normal soon. But it’s not going to happen. Returning life to normal is still a long way off for reasons humanity has never encountered before.
Around 200 vaccines are in advanced stages of trial and many will make it to the market but that’s just one aspect of the issue. The manufacturing of vaccines, glass vials, syringes, needles, and so on pose daunting challenges.
Then there are the problems of logistics: Storage, safe transporta- tion, availability of trained staff, keeping tabs on the timing of the doses and ensuring access to remote areas all pose new problems. The human civilization has no experience of carrying out such a coordinated operation at this gigantic scale.
Therefore, life will return to normal not by tomorrow but in at least a couple of years if everything goes well but even then, it will not be the normal life as we know. It will be a new normal with new norms.
London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, is worried about the pandemic’s effect on the future of London city. The London’s Central Activities Zone (CAZ) and Northern Isle of Dogs (NIoD), which hosts London’s major business, commercial and cultural activities are in grave danger of losing their appeal because of the huge rise in working from home, unprecedented restrictions on cultural venues and events, and the collapse of international travel both for business and tourism.
It is feared that the life we know in London may change forever. To understand the impact of the Pandemic on London, the mayor has commissioned major new research to study the challenges and opportunities in the future. The London scenario could be true for all the major cities of the world.
Online business has thrived during the pandemic and is one of the few gainers during the pandemic. The high street has been losing ground to online trading for many years now. The pandemic might have dealt a death blow to it as online retailing is likely to be the predominant shopping habit of consumers.
The pandemic has taught the businesses that it is not essential for them to bring all the people to one place that is called the ‘office’ as allowing people to work from home is not only cost effective but has also proved to be more efficient. There is no need to waste time in stressful commuting. It provides a better work-home life balance to the employees that make people stick to their jobs for longer.
There are societal, cultural, and psychological effects of the pandemic that are likely to endure in the future. Social distancing, avoiding crowds, crowded places, indoor venues, increased aware- ness of hygiene practices will continue to play on peoples’ mind with serious consequences for many businesses that thrive on social mixing of people. People are likely to be lonelier in the future with increased mental illnesses. Depression could become a plague itself and with negative connotations attached with mental illnesses could ruin countless lives. As has been reported by the law enforcement agencies, the domestic abuse and violence has increased during the pandemic both symptomatic of mental stress people are going through.
Different societies can experience a different level of social discord and unrest during and after vaccination programs, depending on the structure of the relevant societies, centered on race and class relationships and inequalities as was evident even during the pandemic.
The ease of access to the vaccine may open latent structural imbalances and fissures of the various societies having long term political and societal consequences. It can have a destabilizing effect on governments and societies.
The health systems of the world have never experienced suchlike a thing in the past and were under huge strain and at the beginning clueless to deal with the situation and the disease.
However, the pandemic has proved to be a steep learning curve for the health systems, and they are now better prepared to tackle any new pandemic both logistically and in terms of staff training. This is extremely important as some scientists claim that COVID-19 is just the beginning of a succession of pandemics resulting from climate change and increased interaction between wild-life and human beings.
High fiscal deficits, increased unemployment, increased debt to GDP ratios, higher expenditure on fiscal policies, business closures, and restructuring of economies will define the economic scenario in the post-pandemic world. To cover the cost of bailout packages, decreased collection of taxes due to dramatic falls in GDP, and to finance new investment in the public sector to bolster the economy and employment, the governments are left with no other option than to increase the taxes.
Some countries with very low-interest rates like the UK and members of the EU may have the option of continuing to borrow money as the cost of borrowing is very low and they may not run into repayment problems for some time. Which way the governments will go depends on the individual governments. This leaves room for ambiguity and uncertainty about future government policies.
The governments all over the world need to chalk out and launch special programmes designed to tackle negative effects of the pandemic on the society.