Corona Crisis? The Wrong Term
A good four weeks have passed since the shutdown of the economy, of public life as a whole and of the personal freedom of every individual. It has apparently helped to avoid situations like those in Italy, Spain and even more so in the USA for the time being.
Now everyone is talking about the exit of the shutdown, the (gradual) return to normality. And almost everyone is talking about the crisis, the Corona crisis, if they want to name the situation. But it is not a crisis in the conventional sense. And the term steers thoughts in the wrong direction.
It is the severity and unusualness of the measures that need to be taken worldwide that give us fervent hope that it is only a short, deep cut that can be limited to weeks or at least a few months. This hope is understandable, but it will very probably not be fulfilled. We still know far too little about the new virus. We have no experience whatsoever of a pandemic that will affect a globalized world of 7.5 billion people. What we do know is the amount of time it will take humanity in the best case scenario to protect itself against the virus. According to this, the earliest we can start mass production of a vaccine is in early summer 2021, which is a good year from now. It will take another few months until enough has been produced to supply 7.5 billion people with it. Until all people worldwide are vaccinated, perhaps years.
Until then we will have to live with very severe restrictions, which are sometimes less drastic, sometimes even more drastic than those we are currently experiencing in Germany. So, we cannot seriously speak of a soon, even gradual return to what was normal for us until a few weeks ago.
What is urgently needed now is the attitude of every individual and of the society towards a completely new normality, which probably has more to do with the current shutdown than with the situation before. This new reality can be seen more clearly if one assumes that we are talking about a time "after the outbreak of the pandemic", a time with the virus that is not yet known, not a time after a crisis.
What are these innovations that we must design and adapt to?
Limited social contacts
It will probably be necessary for the foreseeable future to avoid physical proximity and generally physical contact with each other to a large extent. If we want or have to risk it, it looks different: A minimum distance has to be kept, face masks will probably always be part of it, the newly emerging hygiene awareness will become even stronger and more self-evident, a large event will probably not be possible in the long run.
Other protective regulations apply to the work. Here it will be particularly difficult to comply with restrictions on physical contact and distance. A challenge for every company, but even more so for the employees, who will all too easily fall back into the old patterns of behavior.
The home office has received a completely unexpected boost from the pandemic. Even micro-enterprises, but also large corporations, where until now the controllable presence in the office seemed more important than the work done, can suddenly deal with it to a great extent and organize work from home in many ways. The fact that this is not just a temporary arrangement will soon become apparent, at least for a considerable part of the economy.
Similarly, the use of video conferencing tools for meetings of different types and sizes is also developing positively. There are reports of virtual staff meetings of hundreds or even thousands of employees that are working extremely well. At the same time, these events prove how little they can replace face-to-face meetings. Video meeting is a very good tool for fast, direct exchange. It can make many trips superfluous. But it also shows the value of immediate face-to-face conversation, where you can hear each other's breath, perceive and understand their gestures without jerking.
Instead of conferences, congresses, and trade fairs, we are currently experiencing an unprecedented boom in webinars on every conceivable topic. Consulting, sales, news, knowledge, learning not only at home for school - what until recently was a special tool is now threatening to become a plague. Is it really worth the effort for a few viewers? How can someone believe that instead of a conference, someone will be looking attentively at a screen for several hours, possibly even for several days in a row? Something will have to be done here that takes into account the actual benefit and the attention that can realistically be expected.
One thing seems certain: The great opportunity that digital technologies from cloud to artificial intelligence to digital twins and self-learning robots offer humanity is coming to the fore very strongly as a result of the pandemic for the whole of society. Many things cannot be achieved without digitalization. For example, the rapid tracing of possible infections and the warning of the individual, which is in line with the virus and its raging infectivity, is not feasible with the manual work of the health authorities, even if the staff is tripled. It needs apps. And many things are simply much better, such as home office and video meetings.
At the same time, it offers the opportunity to steer digitalization and AI in a sensible and ethically correct direction. A corona app will not find the necessary acceptance if there is a danger that with central storage, personal and location data could also fall into the hands of corporations or surveillance authorities. Genuine transparency and guaranteed data protection suddenly become issues that can determine the number of fatalities caused by corona.
The extensive shutdown has not only negative aspects. Like every upheaval, the Corona pandemic also leads to new ideas and new creativity. Supporting this is the order of the day. Not the return to a normality that cannot exist for years and perhaps not at all. The current pandemic was also predicted by the Robert Koch Institute several years ago, without even knowing the name of the virus. All members of the Bundestag received a corresponding warning at the time, without any consequences being drawn. And Corona will not be the last virus to have such dramatic effects. It's time to prepare for this and to rebuild society accordingly.