Is the coronavirus all bad news?

Public transportation and urbanization may be the long-term victims of a post-corona world, and there might be some beneficiaries as well.

Allon Moses Professor of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (photo credit: COURTESY HWZOA)
Allon Moses Professor of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases
(photo credit: COURTESY HWZOA)
 First of all, let’s not be fooled: We all know that the novel coronavirus is just the trigger that will blow the unstable global “hyper-inflated-by-debt” economy. There are no free-meals. Eventually the too-long-cheap-money bubble will burst and guess who will have to clean up the mess – the man/woman-in-the-street, whose hard-earned wages will vaporize into increased taxes and levies, to help governments pay for their lack of foresight and to enable them to support strategic industries in danger of collapsing.
Economies will be hit hard as global travel and tourism trickles to a halt, albeit temporarily (but who knows how long that could be?); manufacturing and urban transportation will reduce dramatically as workforces are quarantined en masse to prevent the spread of the disease. Wages will drop considerably as enterprises fail and workers are laid off, while bank debt will inevitably increase. Purchasing will dribble down to the staples – bread, sugar, salt, rice, milk, bottled water... and, of course, toilet paper.
But is this all bad news?
In the short term, it is actually dystopian: horrendous, frightening and fraught with danger. Perhaps the most dangerous is xenophobia, already a scourge so easily enabled by social media as people thrash about searching for scapegoats.
There is a school of thought that believes the virus will eventually die out within a relatively short period and we will return to normal (whatever that may be). Another school of thought says that it may be with us for some time. 
Prof. Allon Moses, director of the department of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases at Hadassah-University Medical Center, stated recently: “There’s a good chance it will go beyond (the anticipated short-term period) and is unlikely to wane in the summer heat as some have suggested.”
The natural response to this pandemic will be to cause us all to be far more cautious in our “proximity” to each other. Mass urban mobility and urban living could well be early casualties of this trend.
But notwithstanding the doom and gloom, in the medium to long term there may actually be a flickering light at the end of what looks like a fairly long, dark tunnel. Let’s take a look at some of the ups and downs in a bit more depth:
Urban transportation: Corona could lay a long shadow on the way people perceive the benefits of public transportation. Israel has already close part of the mobility system and recommended caution in using public transportation. We are likely to go back 20 years, to when public transportation was only a solution when there was no alternative; for the economically less fortunate or a cause for environmentalists, more than a real and total mobility solution for everyone. People are going to be more inclined to travel in their own space rather than in a train or bus… thus:
Non-demise of the private vehicle: While the notion that private car ownership is anathema to the modern mobility movement, with its dream of ridding the planet of private vehicles, this movement will take a hard knock. Humankind will naturally return to its preference for the private vehicle. Instead of giving up ownership of a car in favor of ride-sharing, MaaS (Mobility as a Service) e.g. Uber – or sophisticated urban rail or bus services, people might prefer to enclose themselves in the cocoon of their own vehicle. But this does not mean that the trend towards electric and self-driving vehicles will be slowed: quite the contrary, developers and manufactures will be challenged to develop even more comfortable, more efficient and less costly private vehicles.
Urbanization slow down: In contrast to the predictions that 2.5 billion people will flood to cities within the next 30 years, this pandemic, with the fear that others may follow, could actually put a brake on that growth. In any event, any city will have to adapt itself to being a “smart city,” with an entire array of sensors, monitoring systems, “smart traffic” solutions and rapid response systems in place to deal with any future crisis, be it terrorism or a disease-based threat. Again, an impetus to innovative development of apps, programs and platforms which will make such functions possible and efficient.
Economies will have to adapt to and adopt creative and innovative strategies to recover and get themselves back on board as quickly as possible. This could lead to a surge of technological industrial and commercial activity in ways as yet unimagined especially in the remote or tele-office technologies.
Reduction of greenhouse gases: As has already been seen in China since late January, slowing production to near zero has seen a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gases (nitrogen dioxide). By January 23, 2020, Chinese authorities had shut down transportation going into and out of Wuhan, as well as local businesses, to reduce the spread of the disease. The concentrations of a noxious gas emitted by motor vehicles, power plants, and industrial facilities plummeted within a very short time period.
Medtech-Biotech: A surge in development of medtech and biotech innovation and development. This crisis already has labs around the world scrambling to develop a vaccine as well as tele-health solutions. This can naturally lead to the development of other healthcare and pharmaceutical solutions for–and the eventual eradication of–global diseases which still roam the planet.
Rampant consumerism, bolstered by easy credit, may become a thing of the past. With a drop-off in earnings and discretionary spending, people may actually concentrate on the basics revolving around having more people at home for longer periods. Spending on non-essential luxury goods, using hyper-inflated credit, may drop off. Read what Dutch trends forecaster Li Edelkoort has to say about how we can emerge from this health crisis as more conscientious humans with tempered consumerist appetites and jet-setting habits.
Increase in small business: As people stay away from crowds, there may be a rise in small businesses conducted from home; with collaborative teams working online; students involved in distance learning, online conferencing, certainly online purchasing with the subsequent rises in innovative delivery methods – for example, drones. All this will mean a surge in innovative online techniques, apps, programs and more robust and efficient internet, Wi-Fi and other as yet undeveloped methods of on-line communication.
Home entertainment: More people will stay at home, with the subsequent surge in demand for more and better content and once again the opportunity for the development of even more efficient systems and platforms, more competition between producers and distributors, and subsequently lower prices of equipment, systems and programs as production meets the increase in demand.
And what about energy? 
When we refer to the transition into local small energy networks, notably microgrids, we can see an urgency to move faster. 
It’s hard enough to trust the big utilities to be there for us in normal days, let alone in global threat situations. 
Modern microgrids are operated and supported locally and rely less on human resources, hence increasing the resilience of the energy supply. 
They are ideal for smaller communities, or for cluster units within a Smart City. Relying on natural resources – wind, solar energy, water – they are not reliant on fossil fuels, creating a cleaner healthier environment in which it is more difficult for global diseases to flourish.
The writer is by VP Business Development at Brightmerge Ltd, a Tel Aviv-based start-up that provides an enterprise SaaS platform based on proprietary machine learning and big data decision-making solution to automate and optimize the design, development, build and operation of energy microgrid systems.