Return to normal life or will it be?

10 APRIL 2020

What will happen when normal life returns after the Coronavirus crisis? Different countries have taken different paths through the pandemic, but they will all face the same challenge in their recovery: how to return normal life to their people. Some countries are already planning how to go about restarting their economy. An article on CNN tells how a group of German experts foresee how Germany can restart its economy. They recommend that industries that add the most value to the economy should be prioritized, telecom and auto production.

Hotels on Bangkok's Sukhumvit in darkness with their signs turned off

In theory, they are indeed correct as these industries also have high average payroll which would quickly boost personal spending and kick start the local economy. But in real life, the auto industry was already in a slum before the outbreak and buying new cars will be the last thing in people’s minds and pocketbooks coming out of the crisis. Electric maybe? When oil prices are the lowest in decades? Not likely either. Car manufacturers will have little enthusiasm to restart much production without the prospect of near term sales recovery.

The most fundamental is food, we need it daily and much of our food is perishable, it needs to produced shortly before consumption. Meaning that if the production or distribution of perishable goods is disrupted, shortages happen very quickly. Also, the stock of non-perishable food gets depleted quicker than under normal conditions as people tend to stockpile non-perishable in times of crisis. The upside being that food production and distribution can be restarted very quickly and reach markets in days. In turn, stores and restaurants can open again bringing back to work service industry workers, the people most economically affected by the crisis. Like food, basic consumer goods, or so-called Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG), can help restart brick and mortar retail quickly as well. These may not make for an exciting recovery plan, but they will jump-start the economy, get money flowing through the service economy and allow people to resume a normal life a lot faster than making cars or durable goods.

After the Coronavirus crisis subsides, most people will be eager to get out and be social again. Well, maybe not too social yet, that will only happen slowly over time. But at least socially selective in small gatherings with friends or family, still avoiding crowded environments like dance clubs or sports events. Leisure activities and short vacations away from home will be much in demand. This will bring much-needed business to the hospitality and tourism industry located near large metropolitan areas because traveling far by air will likely remain limited and too expensive for most people who have had reduced income for a few months. Smaller restaurants and bars will recover faster than the larger ones as people will favor less crowded places, the restaurants who were marketing take-away aggressively during the crisis will especially benefit as they have kept serving at least some of their customer base which in turn is more likely to visit than other restaurants.

Nowhere to go ...

Usually, people have short memories of events and circumstances and easily return to their previous life patterns. But this crisis is unlike any other in the past, the vast majority of people have been affected directly and for a long period of time. They also developed a new awareness of crowd conditions and will retain a reluctance to congregate among large crowds. This reluctance could lead to profound changes in social behavior and new business models may develop specifically to satisfy the need for social interaction but without the crowd condition. It is ironic that in the past, the most popular bars and clubs attracted the most people precisely because they were crowded, thus popular. And in the future, that may well change with bars and clubs marketing their uncrowded environment with lots of open space to move around freely … and not too close to other patrons.

A side effect of the lockdown has been a sharp increase of online shopping, presumably boosted by people who previously did not shop online or not in any significant way. Now grown accustomed to it, they are likely to continue doing so, at least to a greater extent than before the crisis. Brick and mortar shops were already affected by the rise of online shopping and this sudden change in consumer patterns will accelerate their demise. This crisis may be the final blow to the traditional shopping malls, some will succeed by converting themselves to leisure and social points, promoting “experiences” which will likely bring back some traffic, but what is not very clear is what can they sell to pay the rent.


After the Ultimate Virus

Sandra J Darroch
ETT Imprint, April 7, 2020 - Fiction - 196 pages

In the wake of the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, the world learned some big lessons. But not enough. Life eventually returned to normal, affluence and profligate activity increased - it was The Best of Times. But then the gap between the Haves and the Have-Nots grew.