ON THE LEGACY OF THE PANDEMIC

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana, 1905

Looking back from the future, in a post-pandemic world, how will people judge the current government and society response to the COVID-19 pandemic? Will the world be better prepared for the next pandemic? What will the legacy of this pandemic be?

In an uncertain world, one thing is certain: the current pandemic was predicted eleven years ago. In December 2007 the United Nations published ’39 Steps Governments Should Take to Prepare for a Pandemic’, stating that “Experts at WHO believe the world is closer to an influenza pandemic than at any time since 1968.”

In 2008, the World Health Organization published the ‘Pandemic influenza preparedness and mitigation in refugee and displaced populations’ report, estimating that a future influenza pandemic could infect up to 35% of the world’s population (2.7 billion people) and that up to 2% of those infected could die (55 million people). The report states “Once a fully contagious virus emerges, its global spread is considered inevitable. The pandemics of the previous century encircled the globe in 6–9 months. Given the speed and volume of international air travel today, the virus could spread more rapidly, possibly reaching all continents in less than 3 months. The pandemic is likely to return to a region in 2–3 waves, for example for 2–3 months each year over 2–3 years.”

During the 20th century there were three significant influenza pandemics. In 1918/19 ‘Spanish Flu’ resulted in 50 million deaths worldwide. In 1957/58 ‘Asian Flu’ killed 1.1 million people. The 1968/70 ‘Hong Kong Flu’ killed one million. Then, after a thirty-year gap, came SARS in 2002/03, resulting in a total of 770 deaths, ‘Swine Flu’ in 2009/10 killed 200,000 people, and MERS in 2012 killed 850 people.

Despite the ‘highly likely’ prediction of a pandemic from WHO in 2007, we now know that governments were slow to respond effectively to the emergence of the COVID-19 virus. Why did they delay? One reason may be because there had not been a major global pandemic for fifty years, and SARS, MERS and ‘Swine Flu’ did not spread to become the major threat to the world’s population that was anticipated. Additionally, WHO estimates that between 290,000 and 650,000 respiratory deaths occur each year due to ‘normal’ seasonal influenza, so none of the early 21st Century outbreaks exceeded the annual impact of flu. It seems that many governments took a ‘lets wait and see’ approach to COVID-19, hoping it might ‘fizzle out’ before it became a major global threat. With hindsight, we know that delaying the closing of borders and delayed imposition of social isolation lockdowns allowed the COVID-19 virus to spread rapidly and dramatically around the world. So far, COVID-19 has killed 814,000 and infected 24 million people worldwide. Nobody is predicting that the pandemic will be over soon.

COVID-19 has changed the world, the legacy will not solely be one of high mortality. Globally, government and civic society will be different in the post-pandemic world. The memory and lessons of this pandemic will persist. We can expect major long-term change to the world’s economies, governments, and societies. My next blog post will explore post-pandemic category and consumer changes. A number of major shifts are already likely.
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By Frank Harrison, Croft Analytics

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Frank Harrison

Frank Harrison

I am a researcher, data scientist, consultant, and owner of Croft Analytics — see https://www.croftanalytics.com

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