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COVID-19 could herald the `New Normal’

Mar 10 · 3 min read
COVID-19 Positive Vial

Everyone is paranoid about COVID-19 or the deadly new coronavirus. But I think I have mysophobia, so the paranoia is especially amplified. I do catch myself washing my hands often, wanting to put at least a few feet between me and others who show symptoms of illness, and my family tells me that I am the unsurpassed champion at home when it comes to wiping dust off the book shelves. I used to be slightly defensive about the mysophobia (you can call it germophobia, it’s the same thing by a more friendly name). But now, everyone around me has come to admire my caution. It is also helping me stay protected from COVID-19. I know you have heard this before, but there is no harm in hearing it again: take adequate precautions, wash hands regularly, wear a proper face mask when warranted, don’t undertake unnecessary travel, stay indoors, stay safe.

The impact that the virus has made on the world is astonishing. On March 2, Bloomberg said it was pushing the global economy closer to contraction.[i] The OECD has announced that the invisible virus is the biggest threat to the global economy since 2008.[ii] Growth forecasts have been slashed to 1.5%, global supply chains have been impacted, travel has collapsed (Cathay Pacific has had to ground half its fleet of aircraft[iii]) and manufacturers of N95 masks and hand sanitizers are in business. Nothing could have changed the world in 8 weeks as much as COVID-19 has done.

Amidst this, I don’t know if you noticed that stocks of Zoom video soared by 37% in February at a time when the S&P Index dropped 8.2%.[iv] It is a time for technology to shine and come to the rescue of global businesses. Technologies and products like WebEx, Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp, Google Hangout, WeChat are evidence that digital can keep people safe. Over a period of time, we will also come to admire robots and drones that keep the world ticking while viruses attempt to decimate the world population. As the head of Microland, a technology company that is responsible for making digital happen, we see plenty of opportunity to innovate, modernize and create revolutionary ways to address threats to global health and wellbeing.

Viruses like COVID-19 are going to be the new normal. We will have to get used to them. Over the last two decades, we have become accustomed to being frisked and to being subjected to body scans at airports, hotels, malls, cinema halls, and many other public places. The rise of terrorism normalized this. In fact, if we don’t see these precautionary measures, we feel unsafe.

Within a few weeks of COVID-19 spreading to major cities of the world and taking lives, airports are using thermal scanners to screen passengers who could be potential carriers of the virus. We may soon have cameras deployed that use Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning and external data to scan for other signs of the virus. We may even deploy sensors to detect if the virus is in our vicinity, within our premises, etc., and set off an alarm. All this is possible thanks to digital technologies.

In fact, we should expect health scans to be used in more places than X-Ray machines, metal detectors and millimeter wave machines that are used to check carry-on items, checked luggage and people at airports and other public places. Health scanners will become must-have equipment in hospitals, schools, universities, stadia, clubs, gyms, courts of law, restaurants, places of worship…and, as the technology becomes more socially acceptable as a means of securing lives, we will see it appear at birthday parties, weddings and more!

Advanced health threats aren’t about to vanish. But we can be prepared with digital technologies to build out a safer and more predictable new normal.

- Pradeep Kar

Founder, Chairman and Managing Director


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