Next normal: Self-reliance and diversification

May 24, 2020

LAHORE: Pandemic has taught many lessons the world over that would force the planners and the societies to adjust to the new realities. The change would be visible from social behaviours to efforts...

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LAHORE: Pandemic has taught many lessons the world over that would force the planners and the societies to adjust to the new realities. The change would be visible from social behaviours to efforts towards self-reliance and diversification in supply chain.

Pakistanis have never before been subjected to lockdown earlier. At least in cities, people remained confined to their homes for a period of almost two months.

Since total business came to standstill they spent their resources conservatively. They realised the importance of savings.

It is expected that post pandemic, the consumers would save more. In two months of lockdown, they spent nothing outside essential foods or medicines.

Investors should realise that demand for goods and services would remain subdued in midterm as consumers would like to save for any future emergency.

Manufacturers in Pakistan would now seriously consider diversifying supply chains and bolstering online capabilities. They may not abandon the existing supply chains, but they will have to find alternate suppliers outside China and India (in medicines we are totally dependent on India).

Economic planners would have to encourage domestic investors to start making some items in Pakistan. For instance, Pakistani exporters are totally dependent on import of simple accessories like zips, buttons and badges from China.

These can be produced locally. During the pandemic, many export orders could not be executed because these accessories from China were withheld at various ports because of virus threat.

The going would be very tough for small businesses after life becomes normal. The lockdown has devastated the business of restaurants, entertainment avenues, marriage halls, amusement parts and hotels.

These sectors were not able to look after their workforce for even a month. Many would find it hard to arrange finances to restart and competent workforce as well.

In the developed world, planners are contemplating to restrict the number of people even at marriage functions. We might not do that, but some new norms would have to be introduced to ensure some social distancing at these functions.

The pandemic had improved the air and water quality tremendously throughout the world. It was because most of the industries and transportation remained suspended.

Even in Pakistan, people saw clear blue sky after a long time and many bird species entered our skies. We may go back to old ways as everything opens, but the foreign buyers from developed world would impose stricter and costly environmental compliance laws on our exporting industries.

It would be prudent if our planners could apply the same compliance standard on non-exporting industries as well.

The pandemic has also changed the way people work. Any task that could be performed through technology by sitting at home has gained popularity.

Post pandemic, work at home option is likely to continue, as it enabled employers to monitor individual performances and improve efficiencies. Online teleconferencing, chats and discussions and digital marketing have all sped up the journey towards a digital economy even in Pakistan.

Doctors are prescribing medicines through telemedicine consultancy. Some would continue to do so after the pandemic.

The acceptance of e-commerce is also likely to spread beyond traditional goods and services like consumables, groceries and food. Paperless billing could also increase, while cashless payment systems will gain more traction.

Gatherings and conferences would be limited to webinars. Corporate travel would be drastically reduced. Domestic tourists would be very particular about hygiene and cleanliness at even small hotels.

In our 73 years’ history, public health facilities were lowest in our priorities. This pandemic has also underscored the importance of having a sufficiently large pool of trained healthcare workers.

We have the lowest number of doctors, nurses and paramedical staff in this region. Moreover, our government hospitals are not adequately equipped and well maintained.

In the pandemic, we added more ventilators than we had accumulated in 73 years. More than 30 percent of those ventilators were out of order.

This goes for all other medical equipment. Post pandemic the health sector would be on the radar of all planners in Pakistan.

Cultural behaviour would also change as hugging, kissing, and handshaking would not be as common as it was before pandemic. The behaviour of people would change with time. Just a few decades back, spitting in public was common in Pakistan, which changed when finally people realised it spreads many diseases.

It is expected that from now on at the social gatherings our greetings might be replaced by some kind of no-touch or low-touch alternative like perhaps a bow as is common in Japan and Korea.

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