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As news of COVID-19 vaccines get better, let's not jettison the gains

Thursday, November 19, 2020

We expected that there would soon be a vaccine with which to battle the novel coronavirus pandemic. Instead, we have two vaccines that are almost ready to go to market, with another 10 in early stage development.

The news on the vaccines is getting better. The first one to be announced is that developed by Pfizer, which promised 90.4 per cent effectiveness against the coronavirus. The drawback is that it would have to be kept at below zero temperatures — a challenge for most countries which lack such storage capacities.

Pfizer has just reported that, based on its latest data, the vaccine now offers above 95 per cent effectiveness, with little if any bad side effects. That, indeed, is great news, especially for people who are sceptical about vaccines.

But it gets better, because the second vaccine, announced by Moderna, does not have the storage challenges of Pfizer, and offers almost as much in effectiveness against the disease.

What that means is that the world should soon be returning to normal, and that could not be too soon.

However, before we begin dismantling everything that we have had to do to cope with during the pandemic, and go charging back into the old way of life, we must realise that not all things 'corona' were bad.

For example, for years corporate Jamaica and the Church have struggled with the concept of flexi-work, which was intended to reduce peak hour traffic and the resultant loss in man-hours; as well as the idea of working from home in a culture which preferred to manage people instead of productivity.

The resistance to those two models evaporated overnight with the onset of COVID-19. Now Jamaica and the world are seeing the benefits of working from home and some of the largest companies, like Twitter, Facebook and TeamViewer, are saying they will be doing more of that permanently, wherever possible.

Some say they will let staff spend half their time working from home after the coronavirus pandemic passes, while others say will adopt a hybrid approach whereby staff could work in the office one week and remotely the next, or they could spend two days in the office and work the remainder elsewhere.

We should also mention the emergence of the remote management meetings, which get more quickly to the point and save time, as well as the webinars and other gatherings that don't force people to travel long distances.

COVID-19 also forced us to resort to online education for school. And, even though there are still many difficulties, we would not advise going back fully to face-to-face classes. Instead, we should spend the time trying to perfect online learning for the time when another pandemic, or some such disaster, forces us to again abandon the physical classroom. There is also the potential benefit of savings from not having to build so many schools.

Online shopping has intensified because of COVID-19, and there is no stopping that. One of the offshoots of online shopping is the development of the delivery sector. Kentucky Fried Chicken and Tastee Patties are two of the new converts. Here, too, the brick and mortar stores will become less necessary.

The point is that the old normal is giving way to a “new normal”. Let's get with the programme.