How do we live and work alongside Covid?

On the eve of the Australian Open, nine-times winner, Novak Djokovic, is sitting in a Melbourne immigration hotel as the world No 1 mounts a legal challenge against Australia’s decision to cancel his visa.

It is a high-profile case of someone potentially unable to ply their trade due to covid. And he is not alone.

In the UK, employees have been asked to work from home where possible and the NHS is in virtual lockdown, with hospital trusts declaring emergencies (critical incidents), not because they are swamped with covid patients, but because around 10% of their workforce is in self-isolation after testing positive for covid, another so-called ‘pingdemic’.

It seems that the whole world is in a state of flux, as we wait to see what is left of the universe we once knew; where are our freedoms, our joys, our work?

As the virus mutates, society and the workforce need to learn to co-exist with coronavirus, as we do with the flu and the measles.

We have lost our liberty and want answers, but it seems all we can do is trudge on, as our footprints, like our questions, are covered by the winter’s falling snow. 

All viruses naturally mutate and since covid was first identified a year ago, thousands of these mutations have arisen, with omicron the latest to be named.

Dr Lucy van Dorp, an expert in the evolution of pathogens at University College London, says: “The vast majority of mutations are ‘passengers’ and will have little impact. They don’t change the behaviour of the virus; they are just carried along.”

However, occasionally, a virus gets lucky by mutating in a way that helps it survive and reproduce, which can result in an increase in frequency. 

Which vaccinations will be effective against these new mutations? No-one knows for sure, so  we will have to learn how to live alongside this virus and its mutations, at home, when socialising and at work.  

We are probably going to have to receive regular booster shots, ventilate schools and offices and make international borders less porous.

The world of work has changed massively from two years ago, but in order to find a route out of intermittent lockdowns, so that shops, bars and restaurants can remain open, it is going to change in other fundamental ways.

Most business is now conducted by phone and Zoom calls, international business is in retreat and businesses are going to be stuck with their current workforce for quite some time. The days of scouring Europe for the most suitable candidates for a job are on hold; people cannot travel and we are heading into a period of national isolation.

There is one exception, and that is Hong Kong. As of last year, Hong Kong residents can come to the UK for up to five years and apply for permanent residency.

The Home Office says at least 154,000 Hong Kong people could arrive on the British National (Overseas) visa in the first year, with between 258,000 and 322,000 arriving before 2026.

But Hong Kong Business’ (HKB) own research suggests more than 500,000 eligible people could apply for the visa during 21/22, with at least 330,000 people and their dependents moving to the UK in the first year.

This represents rich pickings for British businesses, looking for fresh meat in the talent marketplace. 

But generally, we are going to become more insular in perspective. Foreign holidays are now a relic of the past and countries are going to need to become self-sufficient, particularly the UK, now that it has left Europe.

This virus could have been invented to help the planet and the environment. 

The airline industry has practically ground to a halt, public transport is at about 40% capacity compared to usual and car usage is around 55% of normal. 

Companies are keener than ever to be seen as green and pension funds are being diverted into environmentally-friendly stocks and shares. Vegan food and products have flooded the marketplace and cycling during the pandemic become a mass participation event, with cycle-friendly governments turning roads into cycle-lanes. 

The values of work have been turned upside down. Our respect is now for bus and delivery drivers, supermarket workers and the health service. For the rest of us, once government aid has dried up, we will be sacked and those lucky ones who keep their jobs, will work from home four days a week and cycle into the office one day a week, which will probably have pivoted into a vaccination/booster/testing centre.

There was a $3.7tn decrease in the earnings of the world’s workers during 2021 due to the coronavirus crisis (source: International Labour Organization).

The wealth of the world’s billionaires has increased by $3.9tn, over a similar period of time, according to Oxfam.

Oh, and by the way, there is a massive space race going on.

The very billionaires, who have made so much money in lockdown, whose rockets are regularly exploding in their exploration of space, have been joined by the UAE, who have become the first Arab country and the fifth globally to reach Mars’ orbit.

You always need a plan B.

And it seems to be the Red Planet.



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