The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a huge hit to most major economies. While authoritarian regimes have been able to take radical measures to prevent the spread of infection and thus reduce and localize impacts on the economy, other countries with strong social democratic traditions have sought to mitigate the impact of the virus while maintaining liberal values and, as far as possible, individual freedoms. Governments have borrowed heavily to finance schemes for safeguarding jobs and propping up their economies, while central banks have been keeping markets afloat.
Economic recovery, however, has thus far been muted, as too many uncertainties remain. Europe is bracing itself for an upsurge of infections, with some experts warning that restrictive measures will be needed for at least six months. Scientists have also sought to downplay the possibility of an imminent, workable vaccine. In this climate of uncertainty, many companies have delayed major investment decisions, although those that have been able to adapt their business model have thrived.
Explosion of data accelerating change
Every crisis presents an opportunity for rethinking the economy. Increased remote working has served as a catalyst for digitalization initiatives. Big data is becoming increasingly important, as collection and storage costs fall and processor capacities increase. Interconnection of devices, the Internet of Things, is accelerating as WiFi and sensors become less expensive. Available data is expanding greatly, with implications for the healthcare sector in particular. Even before COVID-19 related additions to public debt, healthcare systems had become unaffordable. Populations in the West are aging and advances in treatment have turned once life-threatening conditions to chronic, manageable ones. Hospitals must be run as businesses, utilizing the opportunity provided by data to predict and manage the increasing pressures placed upon them. For this to be effective, skilled analysts must play a more prominent role.
Data is a key driver of artificial intelligence, which will transform patient healthcare in the coming years, speeding up diagnosis and rehabilitation. Big data is also driving innovations in personalized healthcare and reducing the time patients need to stay in hospital – leading to the need for fewer hospitals thus freeing up money to fund research into treatments. But patients are unique, and personalized data and care is costly.
Investing in a sustainable recovery
As governments seek to balance economic burden with protecting lives during the pandemic, we will need to adapt our way of doing business. Shielding and working from home will be normal practices for the foreseeable future. But data should provide the basis for any recommended action.
Policymakers must be at the front and center of economic recovery. Although public debt is mounting, governments should not rush to pay it off, but rather invest in a sustainable recovery. Green technologies, infrastructure projects, such as the rollout of 5G high-speed internet technology, and mobility will be the drivers of future growth.