Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Why Coronavirus will be the most Significant event of 21st Century...

... and it's not the death toll.

The Novel Coronavirus has hit pandemic status and, I believe, will become the most significant event in 21st century history, as significant as WWII was to the 20th century. 

Covid-19, the infection caused by the coronavirus has affected 109,632 and killed 3,802 globally according to latest WHO figures (click the link to see the latest). But, this is not the significance of the epidemic, not even close! Did you know that seasonal influenza, the flu infects 3–5 million people each year, and that is only the number of people who seek treatment. How many times do you seek treatment for the flu? You may have known that but did you know that it claims the lives of up to 650,000 people each year from illnesses related to seasonal influenza. In fact, 79,228 people this year have died of flu-related illnesses. Nearly 1.4 million from cancer, 274,207 deaths from AIDS/HIV, 220,194 from road traffic accidents and 174,922 from suicides. Corona virus is not nearly the biggest threat to our lives today. Now, you may say that it is not, because of the draconian measures taken by China to prevent the spread of this disease and you would be partly right but it is these measures that will prove to be the most significant event of this century and we will see their impact develop in the coming years.
China has shut down most of the country to contain the infection, factories, offices, public transport and schools and with this it is learning a lot.
Ecommerce
China has been leading the way in ecommerce through its cheap products sold through Alibaba, wish.com and even its growing domination of eBay listings. Cheap goods, copies of western goods and subsidised postage have given the Chinese a strong hold on ecommerce. Amazon may be the biggest ecommerce platform but no one has fully tapped the biggest growing market, China. Amazon will not be able to and it will not be long before domestic platforms do and grow far larger and dominate the market worldwide. The Chinese middle and upper economic strata have been early adopters of ecommerce but there are still hundreds of millions who have not. The quarantine measures imposed by the Chinese government have forced those who may not have been used to buying online to get connected and get a liking for one-click purchases. In 2015, the banks shut down in Greece and the number of credit and debit cards issued shot up as the lack of access to cash made card payments more appealing, card payments are now rewarded by the Greek government or punished for not, and are part of their strategy to reduce tax avoidance. A crisis raised a wave that is still rolling now. This epidemic will see the rise of a tsunami that will give Chinese platforms unprecedented leverage, worldwide.
Home schooling
For nearly 2 months now Chinese children have been taking classes at home through the internet. This was a measure that was put into action no more than a week after the schools were closed. Of course, the Chinese strategy relies heavily on education, something that seems to have been lost on many western countries. They could not allow this epidemic to slow down their hot-housing of the young. They started by placing themselves as the production centre of the world which allowed them to learn how the west makes things. The amount of Chinese students in Western universities has spiked in the last ten years and they are taking all that knowledge back home. They are now learning how to educate their children at home and since the abolition of the one-child policy in 2016, this is going to be a lot of children. In the west there have been reduced birth rates for many years but many areas in East Asia and Africa would welcome solutions to their education systems. Online schooling can be cost-effective, less teachers and buildings are necessary, many elements of grading can be automated. Existing school buildings could service many times the students that they now do by becoming studios for the teachers to record and broadcast their classes to hundreds of students, labs for practical lessons used on a rota basis by thousands of students and examination centres. Of course the child-care and socialisation aspects of schools would be outsourced back to parents but China has already proved that this is a barrier that can be overcome with the right legislation.
Working from home
Many of you reading this will have some days each month when you can work from home, some of you may work from home all the time. For those of you who have a couple of days here and there when you can, it may be so that you can look after the kids or save some commuting time or just work in your pyjamas. It has been predicted that we will all be working from home for many years but it still hasn’t happened for many of you. There are still many advantages to being in a collaborative environment. There are still many practical advantages to having the equipment or facilities to deal with clients, but just imagine if 30–40% more work hours could be done without leaving home.
Megacities have some huge problems when it comes to mass transit and pollution. A megacity will be familiar to fans of Judge Dredd but they are very much a reality. A megacity is defined as a city with more than 10 million inhabitants and China has 15 of them, the biggest with over 30 million and 36 of the world’s 47 are in the east. Yes, the economy has suffered and will continue for some time but lessons are being learned, not least by the workers themselves who in the beginning were eager to return to the office and have now gotten used to zero commuter times and working in their pyjamas.
Companies would relish the opportunity to reduce real estate expenses, city planners would relish the need to extend road networks, workers will appreciate the reduction of travel expenses and the country will leverage the reduced dependence on oil producers. This brings with it political benefits. Not to mention the environmental benefits which are long overdue.
China built not one but two hospitals in ten days, this is something that the west could not do. Bureaucracy, financing, compulsory land acquisition is significantly impeded by democracy. This will be the envy of many world leaders
China’s strategy is one of building infrastructure in the east, the belt and road initiative, what Peter Frankopan calls the New Silk Roads in his book of the same name, they have invested heavily not just in their own country but in their neighbours too. They have financed projects in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, in fact all around Asia through The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), and even Africa, $299 billion between 2005 and 2018, to build political alliances with the developing world in a bid to unite and influence.
This virus may just have been the catalyst that they needed.

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