Finding positives from the pandemic

Habit of wearing masks and hygiene would go a long way in reducing diseases infection 

By Basab Dasgupta

It has been a long depressing period of a couple of years with all the news of coronavirus cases, resulting in deaths, lockdowns at home, massive unemployment, economic devastation, and associated fear and paranoia. Now when life is almost back to normal, It is time to think positively and consider changes resulting from all these experiences which are beneficial to society, if not major game-changers.

First, let us consider the implications of American workers working from home. Excluding farm and construction workers, nearly 50 percent of all employees worked by telecommuting from home for many months and this did not apparently pose any significant problem. The reason is not surprising.  Since manufacturing jobs had disappeared from the country a long time ago, most of the jobs are in the service sector or software-related like Software as Service – SaS.

Working from home is obviously attractive for the employees because of savings in gas, reducing wasted time in commuting, and a cozy work environment with no immediate physical supervision from a superior.  In addition, spending more time at home with one’s spouses and children should strengthen the family unity.

It also offers major benefits to the employer. If the employers do not have to provide offices and work desks for the employees along with cafeterias, and conference rooms, they can drastically reduce the leased office spaces and associated expenses such as utilities and maintenance. Now that the employers got a taste of it, I expect that many of them would continue the policy of letting many of their employees work from home and down-size their facilities. One side benefit is the reduction in carbon emission, and all major cities reported cleaner air quality and improved visibility during lockdowns.

A second similar realization would be on the part of college students who had been paying hefty tuition fees for their college education. Coronavirus forced colleges to cancel in-person classes and convert them to online lessons. Students realized that online education was not a bad way to learn the basic concepts of any subject at minimal expense. Sure, on-campus education has many appeals such as socialization with other students, opportunities for extra-curricular activities such as sports and outdoor activities, romance, political activism, good food at the cafeterias, etc. but basic concepts can be conveyed reasonably effectively through prerecorded video lectures, assignments and tests conducted remotely.

Surely, some conventional schools are all set to go out of business. Though, this is not a desirable outcome for the faculty and staff of those schools but a huge financial benefit for students and a potential for an increase in the number of students receiving a college education.

I have always felt that real estate agents are over-compensated for what they do to help their clients and this is especially true if the house price is high. Lockdown during coronavirus put a pause to the showings of houses and holding open houses. However, buying and selling activities continued through virtual tours and sharing of detailed information about the house through electronic mediums. New software tools have emerged to display the three-dimensional layout of a house in a graphic and comprehensive way. This is likely to lead to a gradual demise of the real estate agency business as we know it and save the sellers tons of money. There would still be a need for some legal protection that an agency provides in case something goes wrong but the cost of that service should be much smaller.

Probably, the most significant benefit of these lockdowns is that people have become much more oriented to saving their money – a rather unusual event in this country. They had no opportunity to waste money on frivolous purchases, junk food, and unnecessary expensive entertainment during home confinement. Once again, that is bad news for those businesses but great for the average citizen.

The absence of professional sports and entertainment like musical concerts or operas during lockdown periods might have led people to find alternate sources of entertainment such as in-home table tennis games, Netflix, or even more social interactions. This opened new avenues whereby one can avoid paying sky-high ticket prices, bringing some equity in salaries.

On the recreation front, lessons from this pandemic might bring back some nostalgic times. In recent decades, the profit-oriented entertainment and travel industries had spatially packed their customers to the fullest extent to generate the most revenue, whether it is a movie theater, restaurant, or airplane.  Drive-in movies of yesteryears started making a comeback. Spread-out outdoor sitting in a restaurant would probably be the trend of the future, providing a very relaxing atmosphere for diners. A resurgence of diners where waitresses bring food to the cars may not be far behind.

The worldwide efforts made to find a cure as well as a vaccine for coronavirus can hopefully, lead to a better understanding of all flu-like diseases. The medical community may become more open to alternative medicine and accepting anecdotal evidence.  It may even bring about a cure for the common cold which has eluded the medical community for decades.

There are political ramifications of this pandemic that may boost the US economy.  There is evidence that China was not transparent during the initial phase of the spread of the disease and did not immediately reveal that it could be transmitted from person to person.  The Wuhan (where the virus reportedly originated) residents were allowed to travel all over the world, but not to other parts of China.  Many political leaders in this country want to “hold China accountable” for their deceiving actions.  One likely consequence could be more and more US companies moving their manufacturing operations back to the US from China, resulting in more jobs here.

One unexpected benefit over the past two years has been a meteoric rise in home prices in all states – fueled by the desire to have more space and availability of cash from increased savings as well as a stimulus, extended unemployment benefits, suspension of various loan payments, etc.

As the saying goes, “whatever God does, it is for our good”.  Unfortunately, this is not a consolation for the relatives of close to a million people who have died from this disease. It almost seems inevitable that, regardless of God’s intentions, a group of people has to always make a sacrifice for the greater good of mankind.

(Basab Dasgupta has a doctorate in physics from the University of Wisconsin and worked with Sony as Vice President of an operating division. Retired, he now lives in San Clemente, CA.)

Images courtesy of (Image Courtesy: FDU) and Provided

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