RAZINA MUNSHI: Imagining a frail future
We will come out of lockdown eventually – but what will our lives look like then?
There will be no overseas holidays in 2020. There will be no work trips to conferences abroad, or to meet clients. There will be no opportunities to visit grandparents or children in other countries.
Way too many of us haven’t thought through the full, lasting impact of the coronavirus epidemic, says Graeme Codrington, an SA futurist who splits his time between London, Joburg and Toronto.
To illustrate his point, Codrington explains how one of his friends is still planning to go skiing at the end of the year – a commitment that few would be brave enough to make now.
What is certain is that we will come out of lockdown some time in the next few months. But even then, a return to the life that we knew won’t be immediate, it will be phased in.
Codrington, who has been detailing his lockdown experience on his website, says there’s no chance the world will get back to normal before a Covid-19 vaccine has been produced – and that could take 12 to 18 months.
Nor will physical distancing end with the hard lockdown. Instead, expect a “soft” lockdown. That means we may be asked to keep a 2m distance from other people for a lot longer than we realise.
The ramifications are many: first, it’ll mean a reconfigured work environment (and certainly a new approach to the crowded workplace canteen), rethinking public transport, and a different approach to education at schools and universities.
International air travel will take a very long time to return to full service – but it won’t be the only sector. Restaurants, in particular, will find it hard to navigate new norms that govern large gatherings of people. Nor will shopping malls return to being a place of leisure and entertainment for South Africans anytime soon.
But the airline industry has some very specific limitations. For example, how do you physically distance from other passengers on an airplane? Will it mean restricting passengers to just one or two people in a row? If so, this will make keeping planes in the air totally unfeasible for the industry. Most will probably prefer not to fly at all.
And if you think this is a middle-class concern, you’re wrong. Nearly 187,000 jobs are at risk in SA alone, directly and indirectly. Aviation’s annual contribution to the SA economy is more than R70bn. SA’s share of forgone flight sales could be more than R40bn: 10.7-million fewer passengers are expected to fly this year. Read more in the FM’s latest cover story.
If the picture which Codrington sketches actually happens, expect numerous airlines around the world to go bust over the next year or two.
Bailouts – as South Africans are all too aware – are not the answer. Last month, the US government gave airlines $58bn through a mixture of loans and payroll grants. It means workers will get a salary until September, at least. But United Airlines, which gets $5bn of that, has already said that if the industry does not recover after that, it expects to begin laying off workers by October.
There are other changes that will affect international travel too. For example, countries are not going to simply let travellers in – or if they do, they’ll subject them to a lengthy period of quarantine.
The reasons for this are becoming more apparent. The Guardian has written about the risk of the “second wave” of Covid-19 infections. The experience of Singapore should sound an alarm. Though it was lauded for its early handling of the outbreak, it has now seen a sudden resurgence. The disease has re-emerged in cramped accommodation for foreign workers.
The BBC details how Hokkaido in Japan, which thought it had conquered the virus a few weeks ago, is now in the grip of a second wave of infections. Hokkaido was the very first area of Japan to declare a state of emergency in late February. By early April, schools were reopened. Now, however, a new state of emergency has been imposed after the fresh outbreak.
Ultimately, it means the world will have to prepare for a “new normal” after the lockdown.
This opinion piece in the New York Times sketches just what that reality may look like: contact between people reduced by two-thirds; subsidies for public transport to run more frequently with fewer people on board; remote meetings; spaced-out seating for theatres, concerts and sports events; and new ways of interacting at schools that curtails engagement. This is our reality – at least until there’s a Covid-19 vaccine.
*Munshi is editor of the FM’s Fox section.
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