After the Pandemic the World Will Never Be the Same Again

The current epidemiological shock and probably subsequent upheavals will have long-term consequences for the planet. The coronavirus pandemic is compelling humanity to fight a common enemy. Communities that have survived wars are becoming more united. Now people have fully realised that only consolidation and collective efforts can bring success in this war, writes Djoomart Otorbaev, Prime Minister of the Kyrgyz Republic in 2014–2015

It is believed that practically half of the 7.8 billion people in the world are in various forms of self-isolation while the majority of countries are trying to block or at least reduce the spread of the coronavirus infection. Freedom of movement is strictly limited: companies are closed, shops and streets are empty and the hospitality industry is at a standstill. Hotels, restaurants and transport are not functioning and the borders are closed. People stay at home and communicate with the world via their smartphones.

Meanwhile, there has been an explosion in the growth of virtual digital technology. Contactless instruments and technology, such as artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things (IoT), educational digital technology, robots, the image recognition system, virtual working spaces and online meetings have been given a tremendous boost to their development. Obviously, when the crisis is over and the contactless revolution is accomplished the world around us will be completely different. Humanity might get rid of such fetishes as the working day much faster than expected. The changes that many countries are introducing “temporarily” to save human lives are drastically changing the standards with which people will live in the future. Many new standards are likely to stay with us forever. Many rules and habits that we are viewing as temporary anti-crisis measures will be accepted for good while interim institutions will stay with us forever.

Most modern psychologists agree that a change of established habits is a fairly difficult process because many habits continue helping us reach our goals both in our personal lives and at work. It is particularly hard to change the most important habits because the majority of people often try to do this with the use of willpower and this is not the most effective way of changing habits. Psychologists maintain that it is especially difficult to start the habit-changing process.
COVID-19: Toward New Forms of Social Organisation
Ivan Timofeev
Force majeure circumstances justify tough steps and new means of governance, which otherwise may have led to public opposition and protests. Like any epidemic, COVID-19 is a temporary phenomenon. But the arrival of an emergency, however fleeting, can provoke changes that will remain with us for a long time. In the near future, companies that do not move to remote methods of work, where it is physically possible, may become a black sheep, writes Ivan Timofeev, Programme Director of the Valdai Discussion Club.

Having become a seismic shock for humanity, the global pandemic has fundamentally changed our lives very rapidly.  Now we have to react to the circumstances and behave differently in everyday life. Being in lockdown for many weeks, people have started working, resting and socialising with families, friends and colleagues in a different way. A unique opportunity has arisen for new habits to emerge and become established. Psychologists unanimously agree that people can get used to new habits after a little over two months. Meanwhile, our self-isolation is expected to last longer.

The pandemic is encouraging extensive change in business and education. These areas of life are being subjected to a major transformation that “traditionalists” have been trying to avoid for a long time in the belief that good old personal contacts and physical communication between teachers and students are more effective. Obviously, self-isolation and social distancing run counter to human nature. In a bid to socialise, people who are social animals by nature, are very quickly moving onto the internet. Compared to last year, the time spent by Chinese users online has increased on average by 30 percent, or up to five hours per day. According to an App Annie report, over the past four years, the time spent daily on Android applications grew by 6-7 percent a year. However, in the first quarter of 2020 it went up 20 percent in one go. It increased in Italy by 30 percent in March 2020 compared to the last quarter of 2019. The spread of the pandemic has compelled us to shift quickly to virtual reality. Thus, the elderly and people who did not care for the internet before are actively going online.

A ban on traditional lectures and exams has moved education into virtual reality. Now schools and universities are already working remotely online. Tens or hundreds of new online courses appear every day. Schools are setting up entirely new digital platforms offering a host of options for remote online education and the organisation of independent homework.

The new technology will make education less formal and more accessible. Importantly, many new players, some of them from other business areas, are daily joining the efforts to create the educational content. They include the world’s leading technological giants that have started actively investing in online education. Classic educational products are quickly losing their exclusive status. Digital interactive systems are replacing traditional manuals. Fundamentally new educational ecosystems are coming into being. The differences between primary and secondary education are gradually disappearing.

Similar trends are typical for the entertainment industry. Most people are using streaming platforms. According to reports by Apptopia and Braze, the number of global streaming sessions has sharply increased due to the pandemic. It is growing by an average of 30 percent per month. From February to March the number of virtual downloads grew by 100 percent in Italy and by 50 percent in Spain. The demand for home entertainment has become so high that Netflix and Disney have announced their intention to decrease the image quality of their content by a quarter with a view to reducing the general online traffic that is growing by leaps and bounds. Traditional cinemas are shutting down all over the world. Many are wondering whether people will visit cinemas when the pandemic ends. 

During diagnostics, isolation and restricted travel, special attention is being paid to big data use and instruments of artificial intelligence. Integration of different information sources based on this technology will allow governments to fix, track and store information on the movements of their citizens online. They will analyse not only the movements of people but also the state of their health. Intuitively, people will be getting ready for new threats to their health and are likely to agree to delegate to governments new functions on collecting, processing and storing more personal information about themselves. All this will promote the development of big data technology and upgrade its capacity to monitor and control society and individuals. The large-scale introduction of more extensive and serious measures by the state to control the personal lives of its citizens with the use of big data technology will become inevitable.

In the future, more and more attention will be paid to improving the quality of healthcare. There will be rapid growth in remote monitoring, digital diagnostics, and new generations of medications, such as smart pills. The Internet of Bodies (IoB) that is part of the Internet of Things (IoT), will be linked with the human body via devices that will be swallowed or implanted. They will fundamentally change the way human health is monitored. The data obtained will be recorded, analysed and stored remotely in order to decide on treatments and make a prognosis about patients’ future.

The pandemic-caused global re-orientation to online formats will continue and become irreversible in the post-virus era. What works well online will hardly return to offline. Many traditional retail companies will shift all their operations online and stay there forever just because customers will get used to making purchases without visiting stores. Our transition to the digital era has accelerated considerably. What could have taken a decade is happening in several months.
Conflict and Leadership
Normality: Coronavirus and State Transformation
Richard Sakwa
A crisis is a moment of reflection in the life of a community. The response to a challenge is as important as the summons itself. In the case of Covid-19, the crisis is the most profound in living memory. Like a neutron bomb, it destroys people but not the physical infrastructure. It prowls unseen, and the threat of contagion pushes people apart. No less important, it undermines accustomed models of normality, the ‘common sense’ of an era, and breaks boundaries that had hitherto been sacrosanct, writes Richard Sakwa, Professor of Russian and European Politics at the University of Kent.

Using its orientation and tracking technology, Google recently issued lengthy reports on mobility in many countries to show how well social distancing is working. Google said these reports reflected the trends in different places, such as parks, transport, offices, residential buildings, stores and pharmacies in various regions and indicated the extent to which visits to these places had declined and what had changed as a result of quarantine and other control measures. Google did not give the precise number of visits to these places, saying it is not yet collecting personal information on its users, such as their location, contacts or movements. Naturally, other high-tech companies are also carrying our similar projects all over the world. Detailed tracking information has not been published but it is clear that Google and other companies have it…

Private companies and governments are starting to actively and openly use methods of tracking their citizens with a view to countering the pandemic. Like private companies, governments are using personal smartphones to control people’s location and track the potential spread of the disease via human contact. Only a few people have begun to protest against such tracking methods that are obviously restricting freedom and amount to illegal control of private lives. They have been in use for a long time. These days and weeks, our perception of this technology is changing in principle. Right now, a new attitude is taking shape to the prevailing ideas on the inviolability of private life and the principles of socio-political human rights. This new reality may stay with us for good…

China, Singapore and South Korea were the first to prove that tracking, monitoring and control are the most effective methods of countering the virus. In a bid to save lives, many Western governments have also started using similar methods without much hesitation. By tradition their citizens paid much more attention to the inviolability of private life and human rights and freedoms but now they have to accept the new reality. Obviously, in the future many people will look back and wonder how so many of our principles and habits changed so drastically in such a short span of time.

The pandemic is destroying traditional ideas about the omnipotence of the market economy. The principles of free markets and free trade that were viewed as the only appropriate means of running the economy are showing their weaknesses. The principles that have been dominant and seemingly immutable for over a hundred years, based on the idea of an all-powerful market and the need to free states from economic management, are losing their validity.
From Authoritarianism to Democracy? The Future of Political Regimes
Ivan Timofeev
Authoritarianism vs. democracy has long been established as part of modern Western discourse, with political transitions supposed to move linearly from one to the other. The problem is that authoritarian regimes proper – rationally organized secular autocracies – are increasingly scarce and giving way to crisis-ridden governments or fundamentalist regimes. The “bench” of countries capable of instituting a democratic transition is dwindling rapidly. The “old democracies” are facing mounting dilemmas, and prospects for regimes in major powers like China or Russia are vague.

Now many experts agree that countries like China, Singapore and Vietnam with their powerful government institutions and “strong governments” have demonstrated their efficiency in countering the pandemic. At the same time, the most liberal democracies with “weak governments,” such as the US, Britain, Italy and Spain have shown their limitations, inefficiency and helplessness in responding to the onslaught of the infection. Their actions may well be described as surrender to the pandemic and complete failure. The critical component of human rights, which is life itself, has simply not been provided. 

Many governments, including the most advanced democracies, have justifiably put their “principles” aside. They are taking anti-democratic and anti-market measures that seemed absolutely unthinkable just two months ago. Spain has nationalised all private hospitals and medical facilities. The French Government announced its readiness to nationalise the majority of its large companies without hesitation. Airlines, railway operators and bus companies may be nationalised in Britain as well to enable transport to operate during the pandemic.

We are seeing the collapse of the traditional labour markets. The US, Britain and Denmark have decided to give their citizens direct financial aid to support their lives and keep them at home. Politicians all over the world fully agree that the adoption of tough measures by “the strong states” to block the spread of the disease was fully justified. Suddenly, the authoritarian methods of countering the pandemic by “the strong governments” have become the only alternative and an ideal model of crisis management in practically all states.

Humanity is in deep crisis and scared as never before. People are beginning to focus on safeguarding their existence rather than on economic growth and improvement of living standards. Now governments will be obliged to primarily protect human lives and guarantee the security of their citizens. People will prefer to live in stronger states. 
They will be more willing to delegate a vital part of their rights to stronger governments and will conscientiously yield part of their rights to strong and reliable government institutions.

Consolidation of government institutions at the expense of individual rights is bound to be a development trend. The internal reorganisation of the world order is also inevitable. More attention will be paid to “sovereign globalisation” aimed at protecting the cultural features of nations and supporting local and regional decisions. These trends may continue after the pandemic.

The current epidemiological shock and probably subsequent upheavals will have long-term consequences for the planet. The coronavirus pandemic is compelling humanity to fight a common enemy. Communities that have survived wars are becoming more united. Now people have fully realised that only consolidation and collective efforts can bring success in this war. So, nations and communities will be more united in the post-virus era. People will revise their attitude to others. As a result, the whole of humanity will acquire a greater sense of community.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.