I’ve been thinking.
Locked down — like the rest of New Zealand — I’ve been pondering the Covid-19 pandemic, and especially what to expect in the near future.
We’re in the early days: the first week of what is still officially a four-week lockdown. But, right from the day it was announced, I’ve considered four weeks optimistic. I’m expecting the four weeks to multiply — to at least eight weeks, perhaps to 12 or 16. And even if our numbers — those who’ve caught the virus — have flattened or started to decline by the end of the first month, I’m sure that the safe course will be to extend this ‘war’ until Covid-19 is truly beaten.
Academics at Imperial College London warn that, internationally, a decline in numbers could be followed by a second spike, once lockdowns are ended and life has returned to something approaching normal. And this would necessitate more lockdowns, perhaps a series of them, at least until a vaccine is developed and deployed.
I’m hopeful that New Zealand’s first lockdown period will be our last; that our relative isolation and ability to close our borders will give us a better chance than others of eradicating the virus here and entering a post-pandemic world early. If these hopes are realised, the future for businesses and employees could be brighter than might otherwise seem likely.
Of course, the best chance of a return to relative normality would depend on others, especially neighbours and trading partners like Australia, being in a similar position. But unfortunately, so far some of those countries are still acting — or failing to act — like deer in the headlights.
So, even in the most optimistic scenarios, it’s likely that when New Zealand businesses rebound they’re going to need to focus much more on the domestic market. There will certainly be less opportunity to travel internationally, and imports and exports will continue to face disruption for quite some time.
It could be the same for our sporting businesses. Rugby, rugby league, football, cricket and netball are also starting to think about primarily domestic competitions, at least in the short term.
There will, of course, be silver linings: perhaps the resurgence of a local apparel manufacturing industry; an acceptance by business in general that not everyone needs to drive daily to the HQ; and a greater role for the internet in everything from online conferences to the delivery of education and health services.
Obviously, we will suffer very high unemployment, and perhaps the worst recession many of us have ever experienced. But the New Zealand economy has shown before an ability to bounce back and to scale at pace. There are always business people who see opportunities where others might see insuperable challenges, and who can be relied upon to create new, alternative employment opportunities for some of those who will lose their jobs.
I’m hopeful — no, more than that, I’m confident — that we’ll come through this kinder, more generous and more empathetic than we were. That we’ll be more grateful for what we have; less desperate to acquire what we don’t have. That we might even be in a mood to consider seriously the redistribution of wealth!
We, the human race, have been living beyond our means — and this is to blame for many of our social, economic, political and environmental problems. Maybe this pandemic, and the opportunity to refocus in its aftermath, will encourage us to actually do something about it.
That’s what I’ve been thinking.