Apr 25, 2020 - Health

Four possible post-coronavirus futures

Illustration of somebody standing in the middle of four arrows
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

A recent report by Deloitte posits four potential scenarios for how the coronavirus pandemic could affect the economy and society.

Why it matters: It's almost impossible to predict how an event as unprecedented as the pandemic will play out. But scenario planning allows business leaders to identify the most important questions a crisis poses, and prepare for a number of possible outcomes, rather than being locked into one future.

  • To make some sense of how the next three to five years will look, Deloitte convened a number of top scenario thinkers in an exercise led by Andrew Blau, a managing director at the firm. I spoke to Blau about the four scenarios that resulted.

The Passing Storm: After a slow start, the pandemic is contained through an increasingly effective health care system and political response.

  • Blau: "It feels unlikely at this point, but the surprise scenario is the one people are always least prepared for. It would be a storm that leaves us marked, but it wouldn't change everything."

Good Company: Governments struggle to control the pandemic. Large companies step up in their stead, accelerating the trend toward a more empathetic stakeholder capitalism.

  • Blau: "Companies need to imagine a world where customers are going to make very different demands on them, one where their relationship to governments will be fundamentally reshaped by this experience."

Sunrise in the East: Western countries like the U.S. struggle to manage the pandemic compared to China and other East Asian nations. As a result, Beijing seizes geopolitical primacy.

  • Blau: "This draws on a trend that was already in place before the pandemic: the continued rise of China. This unprecedented situation could take that trend and accelerate it.

Lone Wolves: The pandemic lasts longer than anyone expects, and in response, governments turn isolationist and tech-enabled surveillance becomes more common.

  • Blau: "This is the scenario that no one wants, but sometimes, that's the outcome that happens. It's a world in which it seems we can't eradicate the disease, and social distancing becomes a way of life.

The bottom line: "My one prediction is that the future will surprise us," Blau told me. But the scenarios outlined here at least give us a platform on which to try to prepare.

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