With the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines, is it too early to predict with any confidence — especially as to the date — the end of the pandemic?
There are many who believe the end is in sight, and while I’d love them to be right, I suspect they must be particularly long-sighted. I believe our lives and businesses still face not just a few months of disruption, but a few years’.
Of course I welcome the vaccine rollout, in New Zealand and internationally. But I’m concerned that it will take some time for supply to meet demand, and in the meantime the virus will mutate further and repeatedly, to keep at least a half a step ahead of our latest attempt to beat it.
I’m also concerned that geopolitics will continue to frustrate an effective whole-world approach. Unless a sufficient proportion of the world’s population is inoculated roughly simultaneously, new mutations will be able to develop regionally, and then spread globally. Added to “the South African strain” and “the UK strain” (and the others) could be yet more. And each new strain will require the tweaking of existing vaccines or the development of new ones, and a new distribution cycle — a new challenge for supply to meet demand.
So, my answer to my own question is this: There’s no reason not to be optimistic about eventually overcoming Covid-19, of diminishing its effect on our lives and businesses. To make it more like the flu. But it is too early to optimistically expect the virus to be beaten soon.
Whenever it begins, the post-Covid era will be markedly different from the “good old days” before last year.
There will be a reduced role for globalisation, in everything from travel to business — if not forever then certainly for a long time. There is more likely to be regionalisation, cooperation among blocs of nations at similar stages of Covid recovery. It’s easy to imagine, for example, a travel (and business) bubble comprising New Zealand, Australia, the Pacific, China, Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea. A common, and universally used, track and trace system would — and should — be part of that bubble.
In the meantime, I believe those of us in hospitality — and, I guess, in other businesses — must expect further disruption from the coronavirus. We must be prepared for more alert level changes, for new trading restrictions. At the very least, we must develop strategies to limit movement and interactions with and between customers.
For the long-term viability of our industry — for our businesses to survive not just this pandemic, but future comparable crises too — we need to give special emphasis to the design of our operations and to technologically-supported efficiencies, and thus to reduce the traditionally high costs that have crippled some of our community this time around.
There’s also a role for developers and landlords. The former should be developing smaller retail spaces, and spaces better suited to limited (often click & collect) trading when called for. The latter, the landlords, should consider different lease models, such as linking rentals to profits. A landlord’s income, like ours, would increase during boom times and automatically reduce during future periods of restricted trade. We’d be in it together.
Only by preparing, by changing, can we all be optimistic about surviving the next pandemic.