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How things have changed since Covid

by Jeremy Sampson
It’s just over two years now since I first wrote about something that had the potential to be a game-changer, a possible global crisis: a thing called Covid.

At that point, 362 people had died in China - but already alarm bells were ringing around the world. FM editor Rob Rose had the foresight to realise something was breaking. He asked me to do a bit of scenario planning, and think about crisis management and the unintended consequences that might be coming our way.

Little did we know.

Fast-forward a year to early 2021, and SA was right in the thick of things. Again, I wrote about how the human species has the ability to adapt, to recalibrate. I quoted Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who said he’d seen greater adoption of digital technology in two months than in the previous two years.

Certainly, our lives were changing. For the most part, people worked from home, whether that meant a single room shared with others, or something more accommodating. Yet as we embraced new technology, we realised the potential for change for ourselves, and for better lifestyles. Schlepping to an office every day? No thank you.

At the same time, sectors of the economy were struggling (in some cases, sadly unsuccessfully) to survive. Covid was no longer just a medical matter - it had become a financial and, increasingly, a mental issue.

Another year on, it’s evident that Covid is affecting certain parts of the world in different ways, and social issues have created huge divisions, spawning many an ugly situation. (To vax or not to vax? Should it be mandatory? Hey, I have my rights!)

As for the politics - well, take any country and its policy will be different to the next. Some have draconian rules in place, others have virtually none; some are in denial, while still others have cut themselves off from the physical world. As for global cohesion in adopting a Covid-clean passport, forget it!

We are advised to trust the science, listen to the data and see what patterns emerge. But we live in a world of fake news, opportunists, a post-truth order ... I could go on.

By January 28 the World Health Organisation had attributed a staggering 5,631,457 deaths to Covid. Still, as the Financial Times reported, scientists and politicians remain split on the Covid endgame.

While there is no doubt that there have been many deaths in SA - about 97,000 at the time of writing - and many companies have gone out of business, others have managed to hang in there, and a few have done quite nicely.

As I write, we are returning to a new normality and even the worst-hit sectors - hotels, restaurants and tourism - have generally been able to recover. A visit to Cape Town right now would make you think Covid is a thing of the past. I, however, would be more cautious, given how the virus has - and will - evolve.

A time for reflection

On that note, society owes a huge debt of gratitude to the pharmaceutical world, which has created vaccines in record time to contain the spread, or at least reduce the seriousness, of the illness.

Our own medical expertise has shone brightly, despite some attempts to discredit it. When we announced that Omicron is more contagious but also milder than previous variants, there were some who sniffed at our findings. It took the US authorities about five or six weeks to opine that Omicron is - you guessed it - a more contagious and milder variant.

We aren’t out of the woods, but it can be argued that Covid will in time become more like the flu, where you have an annual jab or booster to counter new strains (I’m told last year’s flu jab in SA covered four strains).

There’s no doubt that it’s been a tumultuous two years for the world - and that’s without even factoring in climate change, the possibility of a world war and the spectre of rampant inflation. Yet, as we continue to reshuffle our lives and lifestyles, it’s worth pausing to reflect on how far we’ve come, and how much has changed.

Jeremy Sampson is MD of Brand Finance Africa

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