Economy & Politics

Monday August 31, 2020

Here to Stay

Speaker:  Adit Jain, IMA India August 2020

Here to stay?

As forecasting agencies continue to revise downward their predictions on growth and countries spend vast sums to keep their economies ticking, the loss inflicted by the pandemic is becoming clear. There is an understandable fear of a second wave as winter approaches in countries that have contained the virus, and nail-biting anxiety in those that have as yet been unable to do so. Governments, business and civil society keenly await the arrival of a vaccine, as the answer to their problems. However, as Sarah Zhang argued in a recent article published in The Atlantic, the problem is unlikely to go away in a hurry, or ever. We may have to simply live with it.

More than 100 vaccines are being developed across the world and some are in the final stages of mass clinical trials. It is possible that one or more may prove effective but scientists are not sure as to their efficacy, specifically in terms of the duration of immunity. This could be from anywhere between a few months and a few years. The virus is easily transmissible and even, in the improbable situation, where everybody has been vaccinated, it may continue to linger. Consequently, infections will rise and fall as antibodies fade, as for instance happens with the common flu and other more deadly outbreaks such as Ebola. It is possible, therefore, that the vaccination process may require a booster shot periodically or perhaps every year. Like the annual flu shot taken by many people, a Covid 19 vaccine may become routine as a fact of life. The difference really is that fatality and impairment rates in a typical flu are much lower than those in the current coronavirus-based pandemic.

Scientists believe that over 70% of new viruses and bacterial infections amongst humans are transmitted from animals. With development, population growth and progressively blurred boundaries between forests and human habitation, the risk of transmission has gathered pace. The SARS virus that morphed into Covid 19, is said to be commonly found in bats and may have been transmitted to people either directly or through another animal. As the destruction of the animal habitat continues, so will the spread of previously unknown viruses. Wet markets, commonly found in China and some south east Asian countries, scientists believe, provide an encouraging platform for such exchanges.

Consequently, we may have to learn to live with new viruses for years to come or perhaps, even forever. As Professor Michael Enright explained in a recent briefing to members of the Asia CEO Forum (managed by our sister company, IMA Asia), viruses have been popping out in China for hundreds of years and will conceivably continue to do so going forward. Previously, in a less connected world, they were better contained but with stronger global trade and travel linkages, their spread is rampant. Scientists explain that, like the flu, this virus may over time mutate into different strains that may circulate amongst the human population. So, vaccines may need to be constantly tweaked.

Covid 19 has changed the way we live and work. Many would argue that some of these changes will be lasting, for instance virtual meetings, less travel and work-from-home, tangibly impacting several businesses such as airlines and hotels. Possibly, we may adapt our way of life to new and emerging realities if the virus continues to linger and strike back again and again in somewhat varied forms. Life will carry on but in ways that we presently may find difficult to comprehend. Business managers will therefore, need to constantly adapt their processes and find new ways to create markets and remain competitive.