I watched “Contagion”, Steven Soderbergh’s smart and eerily prescient modern classic over the weekend. It chronicles the events that follow the outbreak of a fictional pathogen called MEV-1.
It makes for scary viewing in today’s age of the novel coronavirus. In it, parts of the world descend into chaos, social norms disintegrate and the rule of law is largely ignored. At the end, millions die before a vaccine is devised.
There are many parallels that can be drawn with what’s happening today.
We are getting pummelled into submission by a killer virus – now named Covid-19 – that’s wreaking global havoc on a scale we haven’t seen in a long while. Some experts say it is already worse than the 2008 financial crisis and that when the carnage is over, it’ll even overtake the Great Depression of the 1930s.
We are heading towards uncharted territory. The last time we had a pandemic, tens to hundreds of millions died. But it happened exactly 100 years ago and in the words of the wise Galadriel from “Lord of the Rings”: “None now live who remember it.”
Here are three key ways the world is likely to change after this global upheaval:
My girlfriend’s mother is an avid yoga practitioner, so I thought our two-week long movement control order (MCO) would be a real dampener to her daily practice. But oh how wrong I was. Her yoga teacher simply opted for an online Zoom Video-facilitated yoga class.
This is the future.
Classes that were traditionally taught in person will increasingly have an online elective. This trend will start with higher education but will cascade into schools as well. Private schools will be the first to adopt it, thanks to their wealth of technology equipment.
China’s Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, has shown us the way. Students are barred from going to school and so they use DingTalk, an app that allows them to attend classes remotely.
But the change won’t be confined to education.
The pandemic has forced bosses and employees to look at the possibility of doing work from home, especially work that can be done online.
Malaysia and the world will start to realise that with most types of work, productivity doesn’t dip when the employee works from home as long as he/she is kept accountable for the work completed.
This will make employers more comfortable with work-from-home arrangements. So, we are going to see more people working from home in the future.
Some events will start migrating online as people realise the amazing cost savings and greatly minimised risk associated with it. Meetings that were once thought to need face-to-face interaction will now be deemed more efficient if done online.
Already, many meetings are being held online via Skype and other means.
The spike in classes, meetings, work and events being done online will spur growth in a key area of technology that’s currently relegated to a niche – virtual reality (VR). More and more, people will yearn for the immersive experience of actually being in a place without having to physically transport themselves there.
This increase in demand will act as a forcing function that’ll finally cause VR technology to mature, lowering its costs and bringing it mainstream – something that’s been the unfulfilled dream of many for a long time.
Globalisation vs localisation
Today’s world is intricately and intimately interconnected. What a person does in Wuhan affects people elsewhere too, as we have seen. This is the result of a decades-long trend in globalisation after World War II, which only accelerated after the Cold War.
It has resulted in unprecedented prosperity, lifting billions out of subsistence living and poverty. It has also ensured that humanity isn’t ensnared in another major conflict that’ll rattle global supply chains and flatten the GDP of many countries as countries are too reliant on each other to risk all-out war.
Globalists have been gloating for a while now, lauding themselves on the success of their system.
But it’s not all good news. Globalisation results in interdependence. Interdependence means nations often don’t see the need to have redundancy built into the system. Running out of rice? We’ll just buy more from Thailand. Running out of steel? We’ll just buy more from China.
The problem is, what happens when they can’t ship any to you due to some sort of global crisis that throws a wrench into long-established supply chains – like the coronavirus pandemic we’re battling now?
The current situation is a classic example. Malaysia can’t produce enough face masks to meet local demand so we’re forced to buy 10 million of them from China. We’re lucky China has contained the disease and can afford to sell us the face masks. We might not be so lucky next time.
This type of frailty in the system will force nations to rethink the virtues of untethered globalisation. I see a future where many nations will adopt a hybrid approach where the production of important national security items such as medical equipment and essential food supplies are increasingly localised.
East challenges West
If I had told you a year ago that Italy would be the country most affected by a pandemic, you’d likely have said that I was talking nonsense. But that’s exactly what has happened. Western nations such as Italy, Spain, the UK and the US are the ones bearing the brunt of the Covid-19 wave right now.
Which are the countries or regions that have most successfully contained it? China, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong.
This is a subtle marker of a shift in global dominance. Since the disintegration of the USSR, the US – which wields immense power, both soft and hard – had been the world’s sole superpower.
In the past, it took the lead in fighting epidemics, the most recent example being the 2014 Ebola outbreak. Not anymore.
Donald Trump’s ascend to the top job signalled the beginning of nationalism and populism taking centre stage. The US began looking inward and foreign engagements have been, to some extent, put on the back burner.
This has left a void on the world stage – a void that China is yearning to fill.
Partly in a bid to flaunt its capability and partly to try to change the narrative of the coronavirus pandemic for which it is widely being blamed and bludgeoned, China has sent medical supplies and doctors to Italy, Spain, France, Belgium, Iran and Iraq, among other countries.
Even Malaysia has been a beneficiary, recently receiving 115,000 face masks, hand sanitisers and other medical equipment from China. It has also pledged to provide 3,500 testing kits.
Given the way countries such as Korea, Taiwan and Singapore have handled the pandemic, and given China’s prowess and India’s potential, I suspect the East will play a more dominant role in world affairs in the near future.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.
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