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How will the crisis end — possible scenarios

The past few weeks have been trying for most of us. But they have been severe on certain sections of society far more than others. While there is a great deal of speculation in the media about when the lockdowns will be lifted across the country and the world, there are very few articles that seem to devote themselves to what will signal the end of this crisis. This is an attempt at speculating about the end of this crisis. Several viewpoints have been expressed across different types of media. Some of them paint a rosy picture of a corona-free world where everything will go back to pre-corona days. Many also believe that there is no going back to the pre-corona days. According to the latter, there will be a post COVID world and it will look very different. It could be an isolation economy where everyone learns to live with physical distancing norms. There is also speculation around whether there will be a “world after COVID” or a “world with COVID”. Will mankind just simply learn to live, work and play with most of the safeguards that are being maintained today?

This article, however, is about five broad scenarios that could herald the end of the crisis. These are, by no means exhaustive but simply an attempt at projecting possible endpoints to the crisis. Different geographies could experience different scenarios or multiple scenarios could also coalesce into one single scenario.

The first scenario is contingent on the appearance of a vaccine which is likely to be available in the middle of 2021. This will inoculate everyone and the expectation is that the world will then kickstart to normalcy. However, several hurdles will have to be surmounted to produce and distribute the vaccine in the numbers required to eradicate the disease. Also, it is unclear whether a single vaccine developed in one country can be effectively used to counter the various strains of the virus across the world.

The second scenario is where treatment protocols for COVID-19 are developed. This is possible through the considered interventions of doctors and health care professionals around the world. This is not unlike the protocol that is usually followed for dengue (another viral infection) prevalent in India. Dengue, when it surfaced a few years back, was fatal but over time doctors realised that there were ways to manage the illness and help the body overcome the infection. Today, dengue is no longer as fatal as it was. The methods for handling COVID-19 cases worldwide are being shared, thanks to the internet and social media, and all these if collated and shared systematically could help doctors come up with a set of treatment regimens that could reduce the fatality rate of the COVID-19.

The third scenario is to wait it out until the infection burns through the population. The lockdown and physical distancing strictures persist until there is a certainty that the last person infected with the virus is either dead or has completely recovered and no longer contagious. While this seems possible in theory, it is highly improbable since there is still a lot that is unknown about the virus. It is not known for certain how long it stays on specific surfaces. For instance: it was recently discovered that it infects cats. And there is also the grave problem of people being infected with the disease being asymptomatic. Being 100% certain that the last person carrying the disease has been accounted for maybe a vain hope.

The fourth scenario is that authorities let everyone get immunity to the disease by letting it run amuck among the population. This can be done while safeguarding the vulnerable sections of society like older people and people with existing ailments. The UK tried this herd immunity tack but changed their course once the scale of the deaths became apparent. Sweden is the only country which is still bravely attempting this. However, they are paying a significant price for this in terms of deaths. The chances of all countries being in a position to do this seem remote. Also, there have been several cases of relapse among recovered patients. Thus, this scenario also looks bleak.

The fifth scenario is that things continue for the foreseeable future like this. It could be 2 years or a decade or a few decades. Business leaders and policy-makers may learn to run economies with ample safeguards to prevent infections. This could mean that physical distancing becomes mandatory. Factories, offices and, other workplaces reassess the need for physical proximity of employees and redesign these premises accordingly. Also, hazard pay may be mooted for people who are at risk of contact with others. The economy starts but it is a new world, one without restaurants, theatres, malls, classrooms, public and private functions, parties and, any other crowded gathering.

Each of the scenarios above may unfold with different timelines. Some in a matter of months while others may take several years. The scenarios mentioned above are just some of the scenarios that may unfold. Making a comprehensive list of all possible scenarios imaginable and then assigning probabilities to each of them is the first step for both policy-makers and business leaders. Only if this exercise in projection is done can a path be charted to that destination.

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