- We need to rethink our over-reliance on China
Imagine if each time your neighbour down the road had a minor domestic inconvenience, life inside your house came to a standstill?
Let’s say your neighbour’s garden shed catches fire and it takes a few hours to get under control. But because of this, your city’s assembly establishes containment measures, declaring an emergency and restricting everyone’s movements. Soon, the basics people need are hard to come by, and prices of goods in your local shops increase. The shortages of toilet paper and hand wash are acute.
Your wife was in another city when the lockdown commenced so she can’t return just yet as there are no transportation links as no one is allowed in or out. She’ll have to spend money on hotels until the lockdown lifts.
You can’t go to your job because your employer has asked everyone to work from home, or in many cases, the state is paying your wages (hugely increasing the national debt). Your kids can’t go to school because they are closed, meaning on top of everything else you also have to create lesson plans and home-school your kids.
All this fuss because of a garden shed that caught fire.
Even if your neighbour is a truly altruistic and helpful guy who does a lot of free work for people. Maybe he hosts barbecues for the whole neighbourhood. Let’s say he offers to mow your lawn or even goes out of his way to do your shopping. He could be the best Samaritan for miles, but why on Earth should everyone’s life come to a standstill just because of one guy’s domestic troubles?
I know this is an embellished example, but it’s not too far from the reality brought on by COVID-19. When Chinese cities suddenly went into lockdown to stem the spread of COVID-19, it caused the global manufacturing and financial systems to go into shock. Indeed, as supportive as I am of globalisation and its wider benefits (and I am), over-reliance on China cannot possibly be a good thing. It’s not even a good thing for China!
If the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us anything, it is that the world needs to move away from over-reliance on China. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t produce goods in China or that we shouldn’t use Chinese-owned services. Instead, we need thousands of functional manufacturing alternatives elsewhere. Not only in Asian countries like Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and India. Instead, the horizon needs to be wider and global manufacturing (if not Capitalism itself) needs to be fundamentally democratised. We need to see new factories emerge in Ethiopia, Argentina, Kenya, Ukraine, Brazil, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Rwanda, Mexico, Zambia, Iran and Namibia. Flexible locations that we can ask to make everything from clothes, machinery, medical supplies, electrical goods and foodstuffs.
Such an intervention wouldn’t be straightforward or easy to implement, and would require a fundamental transformation of education and skills training in some of these countries. However, I think it is necessary given the disruption COVID-19 has caused. It would create jobs, revitalise local economies, create expatriate positions (or at least a demand for specialist trainers/consultants), and would establish new trade routes.
But most important it minimises risk and means that if there is another unexpected shock in any part of the world which impacts the international trade, there will be other viable options to lessen the global impact, ensuring only moderate disruption to goods, supplies and commerce.
- Misinformation costs lives
5G, Hydroxychloroquine, lemon in hot water, Sodium Bicarbonate, UV light, disinfectant or bleach are just a few of the ridiculous and curious concoctions that have swamped our TV screens and social media masquerading as COVID-19 therapies. Whether for ill or not, all they do is to spike any science-based narrative regarding COVID-19 treatments. Unfortunately, some gullible people have acted upon them, with devastating consequences.
That we live in an information age seems an understatement. Sometimes the information that’s broadcast (even from people who arguably should know better) is in fact misinformation and is extremely dangerous. No wonder the Director-General of the World Health Organisation, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said in February that we were fighting an ‘infodemic‘ because conspiracy theorists are having a field day.
But what I still can’t get my head around is this: How can claims that 5G, the new mobile phone standard poses a risk to health and is linked to the Coronavirus be taken seriously when countries without 5G cellular networks are still experiencing COVID-19 cases and ballooning infections? Surely if 5G causes Coronavirus, these countries shouldn’t have COVID-19 outbreaks at all. Nor would the virus be so easily passed from person to person in those countries?
- Working from home should be a standard option in employment contracts
Corporate offices can be cool. They can play a large part in focusing minds on the work at hand. They encourage collaboration and innovative thought and can portray a positive image of the company to clients. They can also foster a sense of togetherness by cementing the company’s culture.
But following COVID-19, it’s become increasingly clear that for many employees, working from home (or nearer to home) is an option they would prefer, given a choice. During the lockdown, many businesses have realised that their employees can work from home just as competently as when based in the corporate centre. Add the fact that most of us dislike commuting, we thankfully now have a situation where working from home is a serious option.
Home-based digital access will now be seen as an essential utility, much like electricity and plumbing, and we can expect improved speeds and reduced broadband latency. This means that it is likely once the worst of the pandemic is over, for bosses in many industries to be thinking about whether working from home should be a standard option offered to every employee. It’s even possible for it to become the norm if the job entails work that can be easily done remotely. The benefit is that fewer resources will be used in maintaining larger office premises, and companies will be able to save money and become more efficient as a result.
Now I know that there are some jobs (for example in manufacturing) that must be done on-site. But moving forward, there will be a need for local authorities, real estate developers, and similar companies to provide out of town office spaces that are nearer to where people live. Similarly, there will be a demand for digital archiving services and suchlike, to keep documents in a digital format (which would be accessible from anywhere) and much less reliance on physical files and an old-school file room with hundreds or thousands of hard-copy files.
- Healthcare Workers, Scientists, Supermarket Workers and Van Drivers should be much better paid
If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that doctors, nurses, scientists, shop staff, warehouse workers, van drivers and other ‘essential workers’ have been instrumental in helping society through this mess. They are the ones working day and night to drive the recovery of the world economy.
At the moment, online marketplaces and supermarkets are busy processing millions of orders and making sure people get the food and the goods they need. Doctors and nurses are putting their lives at risk in hospitals treating patients with COVID-19. Care workers are also putting their lives at risk, looking after the elderly and vulnerable – many of whom are more susceptible to Coronavirus. And Scientists? Well, they’re scrambling each day to find a vaccine for this disease.
Surely, any advanced society needs to take a critical look at these efforts and ensure we thank these people – properly! While clapping for the NHS at 8 pm on a Thursday brings a feel-good factor, what would be more helpful in the long term is an honest re-evaluation of the remuneration these people receive. Especially compared to say, football players, Hollywood actors, lecturers, racing drivers, chief executives, and definitely Politicians. While this post is not about pointing out societal inequalities, I think the time is right for this long-overdue discussion.
- The Government can pay (almost) everyone’s wages.
Trillions of dollars have been spent on helping companies stay afloat, and in aiding workers to weather the economic impact created by the pandemic. The US has spent more than $6 trillion on the coronavirus response, according to the Washington Post. In March 2020, the UK Chancellor announced a £330 billion business loan package. Since then, even more financial packages have been announced by governments worldwide in an attempt to help people and companies deal with the impact. The Council on Foreign Relations estimates that the bailouts could top $10 trillion. But while it will be a while before a complete picture of the cost is determined, what is clear is that the idea of the state paying people’s salaries is not far-fetched. It can be done, and the idea is supported by good-quality research. On a certainly level, the state support means a Universal Basic Income concept is not at its core reckless as often portrayed by some sections of the media.
- Advanced Cooking Skills should start from a young age
If there’s one thing Celebrity chefs like James Martin and Jamie Oliver should emphasise, it is that schools not only provide healthy meals to pupils but that Domestic Science lessons (and cooking in particular) can do a lot to equip students with valuable life skills. Let’s face it; those of us with young children are rarely inspired by the food our kids bring home from school. I mean the often-indifferent meals they have made during Food Science or Cookery lessons. If I’m to be entirely honest, quite a lot of the food our kids bring home from school usually goes in the bin.
Even meals the kids make at home are not especially edible or tasty. What a wasted effort. Sorry kids!
But the current lockdown has helped many people to learn, re-learn or re-kindle their love of cooking. And it makes a lot of sense if kids can get involved from a much earlier age. The ability to cook is one of the truly essential skills a person can possess. And I don’t mean cooking some eggs, pasta or rice; I mean preparing a whole balanced meal that can feed an entire family.
As hundreds of people share social media posts of delicious meals prepared due to their re-discovery of cooking skills, getting kids in on the act means they too can feel a sense of achievement when they cook a whole dinner on their own.
It’s a skill that they’ll use for the rest of their lives.
- Many people don’t need their cars that much
If you have to commute 20 miles to get to work, and the journey is quicker and easier by car, and your workplace has no showers or a bathroom, then you probably need your car. If you have to drop your kids to school, or leave the baby with the babysitter enroute to your workplace then you definitely need your car. If you are a person who has a disability which restricts your ability to cycle for long distances, a car is essential.
But most of us are now working from home, and our children are off school, so at the moment, many of us are not really using our cars that much. Further, the lockdown restrictions which included the 1 hour exercise slot has greatly contributed to making bicycles popular again, with bicycle stores reporting stratospheric bicycle sales!
Which is great, I mean have you seen the number of bicycles on the road lately? They are everywhere, hundreds of them! And the benefits of increased bicycle usage will soon be visible. It will mean cleaner air (as a result of fewer emissions getting into the air). It will mean no fuel costs (unless your bicycle runs on petrol!). And it means more exercise – which has numerous health benefits!
Now, I know that the warm spring has been a contributory factor to people’s use of bicycles, but looking at the trend, this pandemic may just bring about a tipping point in the popularity of cycling in the UK.