162 benefits of coronavirus

[More added: now 183]

WHILE THE HUGE harms of coro­n­avirus are well-known – death, ill­ness, lock­downs, un­em­ploy­ment, re­ces­sion, etc. – less at­ten­tion has un­der­stand­ably been paid to the benefits.

Even clouds this dark have silver lin­ings. Crises pro­duce op­por­tu­ni­ties, in­no­va­tion, and long-over­due re­forms. 2020 will con­tain an ex­tra year’s worth of mor­tal­ity – but also a decade’s worth of progress, a leap into the fu­ture.

This post lists many benefits that could arise, so read­ers can con­sider how to max­i­mize them, not just min­i­mize harms. They cover a wide range of con­se­quences. For ex­am­ple, lock­down has made many peo­ple (even drug gang­sters) re­assess their lives. Work­ing from home has sud­denly be­come nor­mal, with less com­mut­ing, less cost, and more time for leisure and sleep. So peo­ple may move from cities to cheaper, more pleas­ant ar­eas, or in­deed coun­tries.

Above all, coro­n­avirus is a wake-up call—it could have been far worse. Bet­ter prepa­ra­tion for the next pan­demic will re­duce ex­is­ten­tial risk, po­ten­tially sav­ing billions, or even trillions, of fu­ture lives.

Ex­per­i­ment & evolve

Lock­downs have cre­ated an ex­per­i­ment, mak­ing peo­ple and or­gani­sa­tions re-think how—and why—they do things. Some ac­tivi­ties be­come im­pos­si­ble and are aban­doned, e.g. travel. For oth­ers, al­ter­na­tives are tried, e.g. video calls for meet­ings and doc­tor’s ap­point­ments; or in­no­va­tions, such as busi­nesses shar­ing em­ploy­ees. This ex­per­i­men­ta­tion will con­tinue well be­yond lock­down, as the new re­al­ity emerges.

Many of these changes will turn out to be im­prove­ments, and will stick. Others, e.g. gov­ern­ment-funded fur­lough­ing and vir­tual horse races, are tem­po­rary fixes which will go—as will changes that didn’t work. And things that were dropped as un­nec­es­sary, e.g. pointless meet­ings and reg­u­la­tions, will stay dropped.

All of this in­volves pri­ori­tiz­ing: de­cid­ing what out­comes mat­ter, and which solu­tions now work best. Many things will mod­ern­ize, sim­plify, and be­come more effi­cient. Cost-effec­tive­ness is key, as in­comes will shrink for a while.

Fi­nally, les­sons will be learned from what went badly in the pan­demic, and steps taken to im­prove re­silience and pre­pare for fu­ture crises.

We can also view the situ­a­tion in terms of evolu­tion. The world has been struck by a metaphor­i­cal me­teor, threat­en­ing not just lives, but ways of life. Those or­gani­sa­tions, jobs, and ac­tivi­ties that are fittest for the new en­vi­ron­ment, or can adapt, will sur­vive. Others that are no longer use­ful will die out, of­ten re­placed by in­no­va­tions, to pro­duce a new nor­mal.

The benefits

The list be­low con­tains all the po­ten­tial long-term benefits of the pan­demic that I could find or think of. No doubt it is some­what fo­cused on rich coun­tries, though this is not the aim. Please sug­gest ad­di­tions or changes in the com­ments.

Some benefits have started un­der lock­down, such as more vol­un­teer­ing. Others may come later, such as de-ur­ban­iza­tion.

Some are mixed bless­ings, caus­ing sub­stan­tial harm as well; e.g. failures of non-vi­able busi­nesses, char­i­ties and ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions. With some items it’s un­clear, or a mat­ter of opinion, whether it is a benefit or not, e.g. poli­ti­cal changes. While many po­ten­tial benefits are spec­u­la­tive, some are es­pe­cially so—more hopes than pre­dic­tions; e.g. bet­ter in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion, in re­ac­tion to the pro­tec­tion­ism of the pan­demic. So I’ve qual­ified some en­tries ac­cord­ingly:

  • ± Benefit with sub­stan­tial harm, or un­clear whether it’s a benefit at all

  • ? Very speculative

Disaster preparedness

Govern­ments:

  • Prepa­ra­tion for fu­ture pandemics

  • ?Plan­ning for ex­is­ten­tial risks: if coro­n­avirus prompts even a small im­prove­ment in this, it would vastly out­weigh all of the pan­demic’s harms*

Busi­nesses & other or­gani­sa­tions:

  • Con­ti­nu­ity planning

  • Insurance

  • Bet­ter con­trac­tual ar­range­ments, e.g. force ma­jeure clauses

  • More ro­bust sup­ply chains, e.g. less just-in-time manufacturing

  • ±Re-shoring

In­di­vi­d­u­als:

  • Saving

  • Insurance

  • ±Survivalism

Spare ca­pac­ity & re­dun­dancy:

  • Essen­tial ser­vices: e.g. health­care, supermarkets

  • Crit­i­cal infrastructure

  • Manufacturing

  • Stock­piling es­sen­tial sup­plies: e.g. food, fuel, medicines, vac­cines, PPE

Government

Welfare state:

  • ±In­creased safety net for health­care, un­em­ploy­ment, etc.

  • ±Calls for Univer­sal Ba­sic In­come: due to gov­ern­ment-funded fur­lough­ing in some coun­tries dur­ing lockdowns

Digi­ti­za­tion & mod­ern­iza­tion:

  • E-government

  • Faster pro­cess­ing of benefit applications

  • Re­mote op­er­a­tion & stream­lin­ing of courts

  • Re­mote op­er­a­tion of parliaments

  • Elec­tronic & postal voting

Trust in gov­ern­ment in some coun­tries: due to effec­tive pan­demic con­trol, job re­ten­tion schemes, etc.

Change of gov­ern­ment/​leader in some coun­tries: if they did not han­dle pan­demic well

Less avoidance of tax and reg­u­la­tions, as a re­sult of re-shoring

Cost-sav­ing effi­cien­cies due to higher debt & lower tax revenue

?Trans­parency of gov­ern­ment

?More con­struc­tive na­tional poli­tics

?Im­proved in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion, e.g.:

  • World Health Organisation

  • Trade in es­sen­tials, e.g. food, en­ergy, med­i­cal supplies

  • Disaster pre­pared­ness (see above)

?For­eign aid:

  • Health­care aid

  • Sus­pend debts

  • ±Can­cel debts

?Ceasefires dur­ing pan­demic in con­flict zones, per­haps con­tin­u­ing afterwards

?Wel­lbe­ing/​hap­piness eco­nomics take-up, as the pan­demic high­lights dilem­mas be­tween lives, liveli­hoods, and qual­ity of life

Health & science

Public health­care fund­ing:

  • For spare ca­pac­ity (see Disaster pre­pared­ness)

  • ?Poli­cies to pro­mote health, diet & ex­er­cise, par­tic­u­larly to groups which had dis­pro­por­tionate coro­n­avirus mortality

  • ?Care home funding

In­ter­na­tional col­lab­o­ra­tion on health re­search

Faster health re­search pro­cesses:

  • Disease research

  • Vac­cine & drug development

  • ±Deregulation

  • Jour­nal publishing

Ad­vances in vi­rol­ogy, epi­demiol­ogy, so­ciol­ogy etc. from coro­n­avirus research

In­fec­tious dis­ease re­duc­tion, due to long-term hy­giene im­prove­ments (e.g. hand­wash­ing, ?face masks):

  • Com­mon dis­eases, e.g. colds, flu, food poisoning

  • Rarer, more se­ri­ous dis­eases, e.g. some cancers

  • Diseases not pre­vi­ously known to be infectious

  • Fu­ture pandemics

Tele­health, in­clud­ing:

  • Symp­tom check­ing apps

  • Video con­sul­ta­tions & therapy

  • On­line prescribing

  • Treat­ments sent by post

  • On­line self-help & au­to­mated ther­apy, e.g. for men­tal health

  • Re­mote monitoring

Hence:

Digi­ti­za­tion of health data:

  • More effi­cient, e.g. the UK’s NHS still re­lies on pa­per records

  • En­ables re­search on the data

Self-care:

  • Phys­i­cal health: im­por­tance high­lighted by in­creased coro­n­avirus mor­tal­ity (even though lock­down may pro­duce shorter-term harms from al­co­hol and less ex­er­cise)

  • Men­tal health: im­por­tance high­lighted by lock­downs and anx­iety about health & jobs

  • More cy­cling & walk­ing: to avoid in­fec­tion risk on pub­lic transport

  • Sleep: im­proved by less com­mut­ing or shorter work hours (see Work)

  • Per­sonal health track­ers: more us­age & fea­tures, e.g. mea­sur­ing temperature

Trust in sci­ence and medicine

Work

Re­mote work (usu­ally office jobs):

  • From home; cafes, shared workspaces etc. nearby; or while trav­el­ling elsewhere

  • Move home to bet­ter/​cheaper area or coun­try, or to be nearer fam­ily/​friends (see Re­lo­ca­tion & trans­port)

  • Saves office cost, com­mut­ing time & cost

  • Digi­tal trans­for­ma­tion of or­gani­sa­tions, in­creas­ing efficiency

  • More in­ter­na­tional em­ploy­ment & collaboration

  • More work for dis­abled people

  • Less ‘pre­sen­teeism’ (un­nec­es­sary at­ten­dance at work)

  • Bet­ter ru­ral In­ter­net access

  • ?Less office poli­tics: as harder to do remotely

  • ?VR head­sets for re­mote meet­ings, etc.

Change in work hours to suit worker (e.g. af­ter re­flec­tion dur­ing lock­down), as cost/​job-sav­ing mea­sure by em­ployer, or to en­able so­cial dis­tanc­ing in work­places/​trans­port:

  • Flexi-time

  • ±Shorter hours /​ part-time work

  • ±Shifts

  • ±Weekends

  • Re­mote work­ers paid for ac­tions & re­sults, not hours: as hours harder to track

Change of job/​ca­reer:

  • After re­flec­tion dur­ing lockdown

  • ±Forced by unemployment

±Bul­lshit jobs cut

±Au­toma­tion of jobs: as cost-sav­ing mea­sure, or to re­duce risk of worker ab­sence in fu­ture lock­downs/​crises

Fewer, more effi­cient meet­ings: as video con­fer­ences, or due to sim­plifi­ca­tions un­der lockdown

Cor­po­rate eLearning

?Bet­ter worker terms/​rights:

  • Essen­tial work­ers’ pay

  • Ca­sual workers

  • Min­i­mum wage

  • Sick leave

Business

In­no­va­tion to deal with new cir­cum­stances, com­pete for re­duced de­mand, or cut costs, e.g.:

  • Ex­tended su­per­mar­ket hours, or ded­i­cated hours for vuln­er­a­ble groups, to re­duce crowd­ing (even long-term, if fur­ther pan­demic waves are ex­pected)

  • Shar­ing em­ploy­ees be­tween differ­ent busi­nesses, in re­sponse to changes of demand

  • Drive-in cin­e­mas for so­cial distancing

  • Use of technology

Re­tail:

  • ±More on­line gro­ceries, Ama­zon, Alibaba, De­liv­eroo, etc.

  • Au­to­mated ware­houses and de­liv­ery (see Re­lo­ca­tion & trans­port) to fulfill in­creased on­line orders

  • More self-check­out in phys­i­cal stores, to avoid in­fec­tion risk

  • Check­out-less stores, e.g. Ama­zon Go

  • High Street/​Main Street switch from prod­ucts to ser­vices: due to com­pe­ti­tion from on­line retail

±Busi­ness failures—es­pe­cially if barely vi­able even be­fore the pan­demic, or have crowded spaces, e.g.:

  • Res­tau­rants, cafes, bars, pubs, hotels

  • Cine­mas, theatres

  • Depart­ment stores

  • Air­lines, cruise ships

Re­lo­ca­tion & transport

De-ur­ban­iza­tion due to re­mote work (see Work):

  • Lower ur­ban prop­erty/​real es­tate prices

  • Lower com­mer­cial prop­erty/​real es­tate prices, due to less office usage

  • Lower in­equal­ities be­tween re­gions of countries

Re­mote work­ers mov­ing coun­try:

  • To cheaper or more de­sir­able locations

  • ?Bet­ter gov­er­nance, tax breaks, etc. to at­tract such workers

  • ?Lower in­equal­ities be­tween countries

±Re-shoring (see Disaster pre­pared­ness)

Less trans­port:

  • ±Less in­ter­na­tional freight: due to deglobalization

  • Less work travel: due to less com­mut­ing, fewer in-per­son meet­ings & con­fer­ences, re-shoring (see Work)

  • ±Less pub­lic trans­port: due to in­fec­tion risk and re­stric­tions on in­ter­na­tional travel (even long-term, if fur­ther pan­demic waves ex­pected)

  • Hence more cy­cling & walking

  • Less driv­ing to stores: due to on­line shop­ping, in­fec­tion risk in malls (though de-ur­ban­iza­tion may in­crease some driv­ing)

  • Less pol­lu­tion (see En­vi­ron­ment & na­ture)

  • ±Lower fuel prices

  • ±Stay­ca­tions: re­plac­ing for­eign travel

  • ?Fewer road deaths—though train/​bus pas­sen­gers may switch to cars

?De­liv­ery drones, self-driv­ing ve­hi­cles, etc. to fulfill in­creased on­line orders

En­vi­ron­ment & nature

Pol­lu­tion:

  • Less CO2 and air pollution

  • ?Aware­ness of noise pol­lu­tion: af­ter ur­ban silence & bird­song un­der lockdown

  • ?In­creased cli­mate change concern

An­i­mals:

  • Re­duc­tion/​ban­ning of wild an­i­mal cap­ture & sale

  • Bet­ter con­di­tions in live an­i­mal markets

  • ?Bet­ter an­i­mal farm­ing con­di­tions

  • Hap­pier & healthier pets, as get more at­ten­tion from home work­ers

Out­door ac­tivi­ties as so­cial dis­tanc­ing mea­sure (even long-term, if fur­ther pan­demic waves are ex­pected):

  • Visit­ing parks, gar­dens, play­grounds, countryside

  • Camp­ing, hik­ing, fish­ing, boat­ing, cy­cling, etc.

  • Out­door sports, swim­ming pools, gyms

  • Open-air bars, restau­rants, cafes

  • Open-air con­certs, cin­e­mas, theatres

Education

Home school­ing:

  • ±Part-time: to en­able so­cial dis­tanc­ing in schools (even long-term, if fur­ther pan­demic waves are ex­pected)

  • ?±Full-time

  • Bet­ter parental un­der­stand­ing of chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion, due to home school­ing dur­ing lockdown

Dis­tance learn­ing:

  • To sup­port home schooling

  • On­line uni­ver­sity courses

  • ?On­line exams

Re-as­sess­ment of ed­u­ca­tion & ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions, in­clud­ing:

  • ?What they are for

  • In-per­son vs dis­tance learning

  • ?Pri­vate school & uni­ver­sity fees

±Bankrupt­cies of some ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions

?±More con­tin­u­ous as­sess­ment fol­low­ing exam can­cel­la­tions in e.g. UK

Adult ed­u­ca­tion started un­der lock­down, e.g. learn­ing an in­stru­ment or language

Leisure

More leisure time if stop com­mut­ing, or work shorter hours (see Work)

En­ter­tain­ment tried/​in­creased un­der lock­down, e.g.:

  • Arts & cul­ture: mu­sic, read­ing, pod­casts, paint­ing, etc.

  • ±TV & video stream­ing: e.g. re­plac­ing cinema

  • Games, puz­zles & quizzes

  • Web surfing

  • ±So­cial media

Other pur­suits & hob­bies tried/​in­creased un­der lock­down, e.g.

  • Cooking

  • Take­aways /​ De­liv­eroo: e.g. re­plac­ing restaurants

  • Exercise

  • DIY /​ home improvement

  • Spring clean­ing /​ decluttering

  • Gardening

  • Crafts

  • Knit­ting & sewing

  • Adult ed­u­ca­tion (see Ed­u­ca­tion)

  • Self-im­prove­ment /​ per­sonal development

  • Meditation

  • ±Prayer /​ worship

More on­line en­ter­tain­ment, e.g. live events, reach­ing wider audiences

Relationships

Some re­la­tion­ships im­proved/​re­newed by lock­down:

  • With partner

  • With children

  • With other fam­ily mem­bers, e.g. via video call

  • Friend­ships via video call, so­cial me­dia, etc.

New on­line friend­ships/​re­la­tion­ships un­der lockdown

More time with part­ner, fam­ily & friends if stop com­mut­ing, or work shorter hours (see Work)

±Divorce /​ break-up, brought to a head by lockdown

Char­ity & community

Vol­un­teer­ing, e.g. started un­der lockdown

?More char­i­ta­ble dona­tions /​ philan­thropy

Cost-sav­ing effi­cien­cies if dona­tions fall due to lower incomes

In­no­va­tion to deal with new cir­cum­stances or cut costs

Sup­port for lo­cal com­mu­nity & busi­nesses: e.g. due to home work­ers spend­ing more time where they live

±Char­ity clo­sures—hope­fully coun­ter­pro­duc­tive or low effec­tive­ness ones

Perspective

Re-eval­u­a­tion of life, in­clud­ing:

  • Mean­ing, pur­pose & values

  • Pri­ori­ties & inessentials

  • Likes & dislikes

  • Own strengths & weaknesses

  • Op­por­tu­ni­ties & concerns

  • Death

  • Health: phys­i­cal & mental

  • Relationships

  • Work, and work-life balance

  • Money

Ap­pre­ci­a­tion of:

  • Essen­tial ser­vices and key work­ers, e.g. in health­care, so­cial care, su­per­mar­kets, teach­ing, tech­nol­ogy, mail & de­liv­er­ies, trans­port, police

  • Role and im­por­tance of gov­ern­ment, sci­ence, me­dia, busi­ness and charities

  • Vol­un­teers and helpful people

  • The elderly

  • Ac­tivi­ties missed dur­ing lock­down, e.g. so­cial con­tact, cul­ture, sports, na­ture & the out­doors, tourism, cafes, bars, restau­rants, re­li­gious worship

  • Domesticity

  • Sim­ple pleasures

  • Solitude

At­ti­tudes:

  • Kind­ness, consideration

  • Public spirit, less individualism

  • ±Less ma­te­ri­al­ism /​ consumerism

  • Resilience

  • Self-reliance

  • Flexibility

  • Ac­cep­tance of mortality

  • Ac­cep­tance of uncertainty

  • Hu­mil­ity, less complacency

  • ?±Short-ter­mism, liv­ing in the present

  • ?Less con­cern about own appearance

  • ?Less at­ten­tion to celebrities

  • ?Soli­dar­ity with other countries

Miscellaneous

±Deaths:

  • ?±Benefi­cial if the world is over­pop­u­lated; or if hu­mans, or those who died, are gen­er­ally harm­ful or their lives not worth­while; ac­cord­ing to some (con­tro­ver­sial) eth­i­cal theories

  • ±Redis­tri­bu­tion of wealth to younger generations

?End of phys­i­cal cash due to in­fec­tion risk:

  • Trace­abil­ity re­duces crime & tax evasion

  • Sim­plifies gov­ern­ment emer­gency handouts

?Less crime, as crim­i­nals re­assess their lives

?Bet­ter bank treat­ment of bor­row­ers as con­tinu­a­tion of spe­cial terms un­der lockdown

?Bet­ter rights for renters af­ter evic­tions sus­pended dur­ing lock­down (e.g. in UK)

?More fact-check­ing on so­cial me­dia

Other resources

This list in­cludes harm­ful con­se­quences of coro­n­avirus (as well as var­i­ous of the above benefits).

In-depth dis­cus­sion of some points is in a Poli­tico ar­ti­cle and FT se­ries (pay­wall).


*Toby Ord’s new book The Precipice es­ti­mates that the hu­man race will only last an­other 600 years or so be­fore it is wiped out, or per­ma­nently crip­pled, by a pan­demic (prob­a­bly a bioweapon) or other ex­is­ten­tial risk.

If coro­n­avirus makes the world pre­pare slightly bet­ter for such dis­asters, thereby re­duc­ing the risk by say 1%, it would ex­tend the hu­man race by 600 years × 1% = 6 years. The world pop­u­la­tion is fore­cast to reach about 11 billion, so this would save 6 years × 11 billion = 66 billion years of life.

If coro­n­avirus kills 10 mil­lion peo­ple wor­ld­wide, each los­ing 10 years of life on av­er­age, 100 mil­lion years of life will be lost. This is a minute frac­tion of the benefit from im­proved dis­aster pre­pared­ness.