Moving Towards the New Normal – What Happens When Your Lockdown Ends?

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While governments around the world are still fighting COVID-19 and many regions have not yet reached the apex of the virus, it is time to think about what comes next.  The goal is for each country is to start moving back towards its pre-virus state as soon as possible.  How close an individual country will be able to get to its pre-virus state and how soon, will largely depend upon the virus itself and the measures countries will/can take to help protect their populations. 

While there are still many unknowns regarding the disease, the implications from a likely range of potential restrictions, from minimal to Draconian should be reviewed and considered.

National and local governments, businesses and organizations need to begin planning for a wide variety of scenarios to get in front of upcoming events.  Being pro-active and developing plans, regarding potential preventative measures that may be taken as the lockdowns are removed, will greatly enhance the ability of businesses, organizations, communities, and countries to effectively manage their respective “re-start”. This is especially important given some of these measures could substantially change how a business or organization operates at least over the near to intermediate term.

Depending upon the geography and perspectives on civil liberties, governments are likely to take a wide variety of approaches toward moving back to “normal”.  In many countries this is likely to be very intrusive with requirements for proving an individual is safe and virus free.  This could come in the form of “Virus Passports”, which are being discussed in Europe or “Virus Free” apps on an individual’s cell phone, such as is the case in China. These passports and/or apps are likely to be required to travel and may even be required to buy goods and services in some countries.   

Ukrainian passport checked at border control. Quarantine Coronavirus covid-19

In other countries the approaches used to keep control over the virus and monitor potential individual infections/exposures may be quite different.  It may include less intrusive background tracking of individuals via their cell phone to be able to notify them of potential exposures (something that Google and Apple are currently working on together). 

In any case, the new normal will likely include protective measures such as wearing face masks and potentially gloves when an individual is out publicly. Preventative requirements will also change over time depending upon the effectiveness of a given country’s programs, the availability of effective treatment options and/or the development of a vaccine.  To help envision what these programs may look like and how long they may last, let’s look at a potential view of preventive measures after lock-downs have been lifted. 

Hypothetical Restriction Levels:

Restriction LevelNear-Term - 1 to 3 MonthsIntermediate-Term - 3 to 6 MonthsLonger-Term - 6 to 18+ Months
NoneExtremely UnlikelyVery UnlikelyUnlikely
LimitedVery UnlikelyUnlikelyExpected
SubstantialExpectedUnlikelyVery Unlikely

The table above and restrictions listed below are illustrative and designed to provide a basis for governments, businesses and organizations to begin discussing potential measures that may/ should be taken as each economy begins to emerge from lock-down.

None: No restrictions. All businesses are open and basically return to operating in the same manner as before the virus.

Limited: No size limits for group gatherings, functions, sporting events, people inside businesses simultaneously, etc.  All businesses and venues can reopen.  Airlines, businesses, hotels, restaurants and organizations of all type are open and functioning.  Population takes minimum precautions, e.g., face masks required in larger stores (specifics determined by local governments). Expedited processes to follow up on new cases and identifying individuals that may have been exposed.  Wide-spread testing is available as and when needed. Limited isolation for exposed / potentially exposed individuals, e.g., self-quarantining.    

Moderate: Functions limited in size.  Not all businesses and venues are reopened.  Specific maximums set for the number of people allowed inside businesses and public events (local governments establish specific parameters).  Population takes moderate precautions, e.g., face masks required publicly, no admittance to a public event without a mask. No groups exceeding 50 to 100 people.  Social distancing remains in place. All gatherings require masks and gloves.  Tracking attendees to meetings in case someone becomes infected that was at the meeting/event or is found to have been exposed before attending the event. All employees must wear masks. Expedited processes to follow up on new cases and determining individuals that may have been exposed.  Wide-spread testing is available as and when needed. Ongoing testing based upon statistical sampling to help ensure the virus remains under control. Self-quarantine for newly infected individuals. Some form of mass exposure tracking.

Substantial: Limited movement; large public gatherings prohibited.  A very limited number of non-essential businesses are open.  No groups exceeding 10 to 25 people.  All gatherings require masks and gloves. Everyone’s temperature must be taken before coming into a building, market, workplace or other venue.  Required to track all attendees of meetings in case someone becomes infected that attended the meeting/event or is found to have been exposed before attending the event. All employees wear masks and gloves.  Shields in place to protect retail / other transactions requiring close interaction between people to limit potential exposures.  “Virus” passport / travel documentation (proof of health) requirements potentially in place. Utilize individuals that have recovered from the disease to jump-start / maintain the economy. Expedited processes to follow up on new cases and determining individuals that may have been exposed.  Wide-spread testing mandated and ongoing. Strictly quarantine and monitor newly infected individuals.

With so many unknowns today, it is difficult to say what actual preventative restrictions may be recommended/required to safely reopen a given economy.  The restrictions listed above may be radically different and again will likely vary enormously by country. 

What it Means to Countries and Economies

Substantial monitoring of the virus will be required as it moves from country to country.  It will also be critical to monitor potential resurgence of the virus via importing new cases from countries that have not achieved some level of control over the virus.  Countries with “active infections”, e.g., limited or no control over the virus spread, will be severely restricted from direct interactions with other countries.  Freedom of travel within these countries could also be limited until control of the virus has been achieved.  In lesser developed countries, especially those with a high degree of reliance on an informal economy, these restrictions, along with the virus itself could lead to substantial social disruptions, lack of food security and extensive impacts beyond those caused by the virus itself. 

Given that a vaccine is projected to be a year or more into the future, restrictions of some kind may need to be in place for some time to prevent a resurgence of the Coronavirus.  Before the development of a vaccine, the emergence of effective treatments could substantially alter the required restrictions.  However, it is important that government, business, religious, community and other organizational leaders proactively discuss and determine effective approaches to managing the threat posed by the Coronavirus.

The Coronavirus will pass, just as other pandemics that have preceded it. However, it is critical to work together now, in a transparent fashion, to minimize the danger and damage caused by the virus, to safely restart the local and global economies and prepare for how we respond in the future. 

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