Corona Virus: Looking Ahead

Over the last couple of days we have been seeing a slight shift in the discussion around Corona virus. More and more people are talking about the mid- to long-term implications for our lives, be it on the private level or related to economic consequences. Either area will have to undergo long-lasting changes in behavior, until we have proven medication and vaccination.

The following argument is made based on the numbers we know for Germany as of this writing, and those data contain quite some uncertainty. As to other countries, I think my points are universally valid at their core, because it is next to impossible that such a disease will “behave” differently between countries. Yes, each country is at its own point in time with regard to how many people are infected. Also, the speed at which the virus spreads and therefore the number of fatalities vary due to different measures being invoked etc. But I have a hard time believing that otherwise things will be drastically different.

The core question for most people (and companies alike) is how long things will need to be as they are now. So far measures have been introduced in a pretty incremental way, rather than a big bang approach. The reason for that, as governments have emphasized over and over again, was that decisions had to be made “as we learn new facts” about Corona. While not wrong per se, the latter is certainly not the only rational for doing things this way. More importantly, it introduced people to those radical changes in small doses. There is the saying “nobody likes surprises” and I think this is behind most of the communication we have seen. First things are publicly debated as future possibilities for a while, so people can get used to them. And only after that they are made “rules”. In general this makes a lot of sense, simply to increase acceptance.

Chances are that we will see a “few” more such announcements. The next ones will probably focus more and more on what needs to happen before we can increase direct contact/interaction again. The immediate concern must be to limit the risk of infection. And here the current consensus, meanwhile, seems to be that wearing face masks is of critical importance. Finally I would like to add. Because for too long there had been official(!) statements that masks do not really help the broader population and should only be used by medical personal. This is one of the dumbest arguments I have heard my entire life! Either masks help or not (assuming you know how to use them correctly). This was nothing but a really stupid way of saying “we do not have enough masks”.

To develop a rough understanding where we are in the overall process, we need to think about how many people have already been infected. Early figures (and I have not seen an update on this for a while) estimated that 60% to 70% of the overall population will eventually contract the virus. Here in Germany, if we assume that six to ten times more people are infected than have been tested positive (currently around 125,000 of 83 million), that means less than 2% of the population have caught Corona so far. In this light it is safe to assume that we still have some way to go.

As to what all this means for the next couple of weeks, my guess is that as soon as enough face masks are available some restrictions will be lifted. The focus will likely be a combination of things to boost morale and help the economy. What will probably stay in place are recommendations to still limit contacts as far as possible. So for all businesses, where this mode of operation is possible, that will mean working from home for a long time to come.

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