Coronavirus has just begun and is already impacting the world economy, hurting stocks, stopping travel and meetings, and affecting the daily life routine of millions. Economists are predicting the virus will result in an economic loss of hundreds of billions of dollars. But to this tremendous disaster, there might be a good part: Looking through the history of pandemics (diseases that had spread across the world), this virus will probably bring with it a wave of innovation in addition to a huge change in society. Each pandemic is different and the world has certainly changed, but huge diseases all share the fact that they change the way people cope, behave, think and innovate- leading to changes we have made to the world and our lives.
Let’s take a look back:
The Great Plague (The Black Death)
Between the years 1347-1351, around 100 million people died is Europe and Asia- having killed around 60% of Europe’s population. What had changed? Basically everything. Millions of people dead led to people needing to work, and wanting to work a lot. This led to the lifestyle known today- people were working harder and for longer hours , and advancing your career was a priority. One thing that became to exist were clocks to keep track of time. Another thing society realised that the medical care, based on religion wasn’t enough (shocker) and this led to modern medicine based on science (!) as well as building hospitals. As work became a higher priority, automation and work tools were invented and so were eyeglasses to keep people productive.
The Small Pox
In 1721, the smallpox epidemic hit the world, having killed millions that had been infected by air. The only solution that seemed to have worked was "variolation"(something experimented in Asia). Variolation ( sounds disgusting) involved taking the pus from a wound of an infected patient and inoculating it into a healthy person. It caused an infection but then made sure the patient wouldn’t get the full smallpox disease. It saved tons of lives and eventually became what is now a vaccine. In addition, to keep in touch and stay entertained, one man started writing down his opinion on politics, jokes, and the people in his town, printed it and spread it around- thus becoming the first newspaper!
In 2002, SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) first appeared in China and then spread to other regions, putting the world on high alert (just like today). People couldn’t travel to Asia, hurting the global travel industry billions, and businesses and the global economy suffered. According to Forbes ,SARS cost the world economy about $40 billion. People didn't go to work, they didn't go to malls, children didn't go to schools, so parents had to stay home, they didn't go to restaurants. Basically a pretty sad situation just like the one we have today. So what was the silver lining? e Commerce.
People had to stay home but they needed to stay connected and SARS gave companies like Alibaba and JD.com the chance to take advantage, becoming the largest companies in the world and China becoming identified as the ecommerce capital, leading shopaholics all around to feed their addiction.
Today’s pandemic is already changing cultural and business norms. Netflix, food delivery and Amazon Prime seem to have prepared us for Coronavirus, but companies are coming up with new and innovative ways to break through the isolation boundaries- Wolt are offering “contactless” deliveries . WFH (work from home) is the new normal and it will probably lead to workplace changes affecting teamwork, collaboration, and productivity.
Today’s coronavirus might be future inventions historians will mark in the books, so if anything, we have that to look forward to ;)