The Times They Are a-Changin — this song by Bobby Dylan, composed in 1964, seems so relevant in 2020, but for very different reasons. This is our third issue and the third editorial on the COVID-19 pandemic. In March-April, we knew we had a problem, but were confident of tackling it. In April-May, we realized that the problem was far from going away, and now we are resigned to living with COVID-19. But living with Covid is easier said than done, because that needs a major change in the mindset, apart from masks, soap and physical distancing.
That mindset must recognize that there is no going back to ‘normal’. The clock cannot be turned back. The normal is decided by what it is here and now. “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees sums up the situation. It is no wonder therefore that the busiest professionals are from the medical fraternity — from taking care of the infected, advising the healthy to developing a vaccine — they are on it 24/7. Pharmaceutical firms are thriving. Uber is now less important than an ambulance service. Working from home and online classes have seen a spike in device sales and data plans, and the proliferation of online courses. Pedagogy is seeing a change as teachers come to grips with the new medium. Malls have been replaced by online e-commerce. Amazon is laughing all the way to the bank.
According to the WHO, it will be another two years before the world sees the end of this pandemic. There are speculations and warnings about another pandemic in the future. Clearly, progress and development are not linear projections on spreadsheets. What is needed now is lateral thinking or thinking out of the box.
The tourism and hotel industry have taken and are taking a beating. Smart hoteliers are shifting to using their premises, those that have not been turned into Covid hospitals and quarantine centers, for the well-heeled to cater to home delivery of premium food items. A major tourist agency in my hometown has turned to manufacturing common items of ready-to-cook food. Clearly, they have understood that people may not travel and tour, but they need to eat!
Geospatial has played a role in the management of the pandemic in terms of monitoring the spread, managing supply chains, and creating apps for personal contact tracing. There is a need to think beyond these ‘linear’ applications. What do we need geospatially in these radically changed circumstances?
There are several lessons for humanity from the Covid experience. There is a need for a better and more resilient global healthcare system. Stringent travel restrictions have shown that atmospheric pollution can be reduced. While there are many studies on the reduction of pollution, there is a need to study whether this will in fact delay the global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Will this then be the way to go in the future? The travel restrictions cannot be continued forever, but can there be some regulation which will reduce the damage to the travel and tourism industry? In the era of physical distancing, there is a need to relook at smart cities which seek to concentrate populations in smaller areas and develop smart satellite towns instead.
The COVID-19 global pandemic has rudely disturbed the continuum. But disruption is known to bring opportunities to innovate and change things for the better. Those who grab this opportunity will survive and thrive. Those who long for a return to normal may not. The geospatial industry will be no exception.