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Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

If the growing novel coronavirus outbreak becomes a lasting pandemic, it could accelerate fundamental changes in the economy, politics and the workplace.

The big picture: A truly global infectious disease event like COVID-19 can be every bit as transformative for the future as a global war or economic depression.

The impacts of major pandemics can be felt well beyond the sheer death toll.

  • The Black Death, which killed as much as a third of Europe's population during the 14th century, led to severe labor scarcity. The resulting higher wages helped erode feudalism and encouraged the innovation of labor-saving technologies.
  • More recently the 2003 SARS outbreak helped jumpstart China's nascent e-commerce sector.

What to watch: How lasting the changes created by COVID-19 will be depends on the extent of the virus's spread and its ultimate severity, neither of which can be known yet. But the longer the outbreak endures, the more likely it is that coping responses will remain with us.

1. Going remote: Videoconferencing and remote work have exploded as the virus has spread.

  • According to Kentik, a global provider of network analytics, videoconferencing traffic in North America and Asia has doubled since the outbreak began.
  • Led by tech firms like Twitter and Facebook, companies are encouraging and even requiring their employees to work from home, both to slow the spread of the disease now and prepare for the worst should offices be closed in a quarantine.
  • Many experts believe business leaders will come to see that central offices and face-to-face meetings are less vital than they thought. "We're going to see that work can be tied to productivity anywhere rather than putting time in an office," said Peter Jackson, CEO of the digital collaboration company Bluescape.

2. The big decoupling: After the travel industry, the companies that have suffered most from COVID-19 are those with just-in-time supply chains highly dependent on China.

  • As a result, the coronavirus has already "prompted a re-examination of the world's central reliance on China as ground zero for manufacturing," as Peter Goodman wrote in the New York Times.
  • If the outbreak worsens, "we'll definitely see accelerated decoupling of manufacturing out of China," said Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group. "Changes that may have been delayed until the next recession will happen right now."

3. Nastier politics: The ideal reaction to a global outbreak would be a globally unified response. Don't bet on it.

  • Far-right leaders in countries like France, Italy and Spain have already taken advantage of the outbreak to call for tightening borders. As a result, wrote Pawell Zerka of the European Council on Foreign Relations, "populism could flourish as the coronavirus spreads."
  • COVID-19 has already become politicized in the U.S. According to one online survey, nearly 70% of Republicans believe the nation is prepared for the outbreak, compared to just 35% of Democrats.
  • While China badly mismanaged the start of the outbreak, more recently the country has tried to spin its apparent success in containing the virus as a triumph of its autocratic system. Expect that argument to gain force if the U.S. bungles its response.

4. Faster science: While governments have struggled to respond to COVID-19, scientists are making the most of new tools to track and potentially counter the virus.

  • Rapid analyses of the genetic makeup of the virus in Washington state indicated the outbreak there was likely underway well before the first official cases were confirmed in late January.
  • Scientists at Stanford University developed a diagnostic test for the novel coronavirus that can deliver tests in as little as 12 hours, much faster than current models.

The bottom line: The year is less than three months old, but we have every reason to believe that COVID-19 will be one of the most significant events of the decade — if not beyond.

Go deeper

Former D.C. Guard alleges Army Generals lied about Jan. 6 response

Members of the National Guard and Capitol police keep a small group of pro-Trump demonstrators away from the Capitol following the insurrection on Jan. 6. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

A former D.C. National Guard official has alleged that top Army generals "lied" to Congress in their testimony on the U.S. Capitol riot, Politico first reported Monday.

The big picture: Col. Earl Matthews, who was serving on Jan. 6, alleges in a memo that the official version on the military response is "worthy of the best Stalinist or North Korea propagandist" and that the Pentagon inspector general's November report on it features "myriad inaccuracies, false or misleading statements, or examples of faulty analysis."

Toyota to build $1.3 billion U.S. battery plant in North Carolina

The all-electric Toyota bZ4X, the company's first battery-electric vehicle, at the Los Angeles Auto Show in Los Angeles, California on Nov. 17. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

Toyota announced Monday it's investing $1.3 billion to construct an electric vehicle battery "megasite" near Greensboro, North Carolina, set to open in 2025.

Why it matters: Toyota's Prius hybrid won environmental plaudits when it launched in 1997, but it has since lost ground to electric vehicle world leader Tesla, per Axios' Joann Muller. This battery plant will be the first to produce automotive batteries for Toyota in North America.

6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Congress hunts for shortcut to pass defense funding, debt limit combo

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer returned to his office Monday. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The scramble in Congress to pass the National Defense Authorization Act is being complicated by an effort to tie it to a needed hike in the federal debt limit.

Why it matters: The House and Senate are rapidly coming up against a series of deadlines they must address before the end of the year — or risk disrupting crucial military funding and upending the economy. Congressional leaders are now hoping they can knock out both "must-pass" priorities in one, complex swoop.