Things will never go back to the way they were before the coronavirus pandemic. These aren’t just passing circumstances: the coronavirus has become a reality and history has not recorded another pandemic of such sweeping scope in both time and place. We were unwilling to believe the experts who said it would be three years before the world could breathe again, but the pandemic is just a few months from completing its second year already – and the virus continues to mutate.
The world has now revealed the extent of the gap between its developed and developing countries, a gap which stands out – as countries compete to acquire vaccines – in the disparities between the number of people vaccinated on either side of the development divide. Since the vaccine became available, only 23% of the world’s population has been vaccinated, but while more than half the people in the developed world have received the vaccine, the percentage of people vaccinated in some African countries has barely reached 1%.
Moreover, global debt has piled up due to pandemic spending and is now at unprecedented levels, having reached nearly $300 trillion - equivalent to 355% of worldwide GDP - with borrowing supported by low interest rates in developed countries. This has led to more struggles and complications, and World Bank statistics indicate that 120 million people are now under the poverty line as a result of the pandemic.
All these developments are paving the way to a post-pandemic world. We’re at a historic turning point, driven by fast-paced changes: amazing advances in technology, deepening development gaps and a new Middle East taking shape. And I don’t believe Lebanon will be able to endure for long, with all the issues that are eating away at what’s left of its social, political and economic structures.
As for ordinary people, every decision related to their daily life will have been affected by this pandemic, and that’s assuming they haven’t lost a loved one. Their daily routine is no longer the same; their work hours and workplace, the nature of their children’s schooling and the timing of their travels are all different now. Will everything simply go back to the way it was before? Most likely, there will be changes in education, healthcare and banking.
Every area that can be transformed using technology will change, and the pace of change will be faster than ever. Thanks to the pandemic, ordinary people will have found the space to take a breath, away from the frantic pace of life - space to reassess their priorities and take new decisions. People have learned, or rather re-discovered, the necessity of having time to themselves, away from the enslavement of work.
As a result of all this, the world will witness many new developments. Specialists who work remotely will emigrate, moving away from bitterly cold weather to more temperate climates in Asian countries which offer internet access, greenery and the allure of the simple life. Social activities make up a substantial part of people’s lives in the Arab Gulf, and generally speaking in all Arab countries. This pandemic has attempted to change the habits of these nations – a change that previous approaches have failed to achieve.
Many have resisted, trying to maintain their usual pattern of visits, condolence gatherings, and weddings, but for plenty of others, the coronavirus has confirmed their belief that it’s absurd to waste so much time and money on such occasions. To what extent will social aspects ultimately be affected? Will the impact will be positive or negative? Will those who find themselves missing social interaction realise how important it is? And are those who overdo it aware that they’re wasting their time?
Although we believe that countries are not like individuals, countries will in fact completely revise their plans and priorities, just as individuals have done for themselves and their families. Labour laws and work environments will change, as will the areas in which countries invest. The architecture and design of houses will change and they will be lived in differently because people now want more green spaces than before. People got to breathe less-polluted air when traffic stopped for days and weeks during the lockdown, and the smog cleared noticeably from the skies of Mumbai, New Delhi and Beijing.
These circumstances have created unprecedented environmental demands and awareness. Unfortunately, global warming will be politicised at the expense of developing countries, in the same way that other issues have been politicised before. The biggest changes have been, and will to continue be, seen in worldwide supply chains, because the pandemic is a war-like situation for countries – and it’s not a simulation, it’s very real indeed.
Countries have recognised who will twist the other’s arm – and how. They’ve understood the meaning of food security and the importance of securing supplies of medication and treatment, and they’ve realised who is in control of pharmaceutical manufacturing. Many trips and meetings have been cancelled; it’s become normal for people not to travel to attend a meeting or conference and to avoid numerous social obligations, and people can now make more efficient use of their time than before. I don’t know to what extent these changes have been monitored by research centres, since everyone is bound by their place and people are only aware of their immediate surroundings.
People will be stubborn and try to return – triumphantly and even stronger than before – to their normal lives, but they won’t be able to press the replay button. Life will return, no doubt, but with a new look, and under circumstances that have created a different reality. We will laugh and cry when we begin to find out what we’ve lost. Most importantly, we should learn to hope and not to be swept away by the current of life, without being aware of what’s happening around us.
Take a deep breath, we live in an age of amazing haste and depressing inequalities. Whoever doesn’t learn to adapt quickly, and doesn’t develop himself independently will live like a stranger in the age of the fourth technological revolution. It’s The Age of the Unprecedented, if it can be labelled as such, so what will your – unprecedented – preparations be for the post-coronavirus world?