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How has COVID-19 impacted me to date?

Gunnar Menzel
March 10, 2020

Here I sit in my home office on a rainy Tuesday in Manchester (UK), amazed at the impact COVID-19 [1] has had on society, the markets [2], and the way we work in such a short space of time.

As the Europe CTIO for the largest European IT service provider, traveling for work and meeting lots of new people every week is part of my life – or at least it was. I presented at a conference just a few days ago. Now it feels like it might be a long time until I might travel again.

Country by country more and more prevention measures are being applied. Yesterday the Italian PM announced a full lockdown of his country [3], Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu imposed a 14-day quarantine for all arrivals [4], and the UK is preparing to ask even mildly sick people to stay at home [5]. Also, yesterday saw the biggest fall at the New York stock exchange since 2008 [6] (although some calm has returned today) [7].

These preventative measures are currently the only weapon we have against the coronavirus, and given that we still don’t know for certain how long the incubation period is or how exactly the virus is being transmitted [8], it’s essential we take them very seriously, not just to protect ourselves but to slow the virus’ spread. Stringent measures certainly seem to work, as Singapore is currently demonstrating [9] – although it will be difficult to replicate some of those measures elsewhere.

One of the most striking but unintentional results of the travel lockdowns and quarantines in China was a dramatic fall in air pollution. Observations from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel 5 satellite showed NO2 levels plummeting across China from January into February, and were well below seasonal norms [10].

As similar travel bans and lockdowns spread across the world, the impact on emissions of greenhouse gases may be just as dramatic.

COVID-19 is, rightly, the prime concern right now, but I think a lot of people are already seeing this global crisis as a foretaste of a much bigger global crisis hanging over our heads – climate change. From that perspective, it’s perhaps encouraging to see what we can do to change behaviour and respond to big challenges. If it’s possible to slash travel – and emissions – in just a few weeks, perhaps we are seeing a model of what governments will have to do in the future to tackle the carbon challenge. If it’s possible to build new 1,000-bed hospitals in just a few days, as the Chinese authorities did, perhaps it’s also possible to build carbon capture or clean energy infrastructure at the scale and pace needed to make a difference.

On a personal level, there is still much I can do to ensure we are still fully open for business:

  1. Shift more meetings to calls / video calls (making more use of built-in video conferencing facilities in Microsoft Teams)
  2. Make more use of online services (again) like Teams where you can work in a SharePoint deck, WinWord doc etc. together with other colleagues at the same time
  3. Prepare social media content in advance. Not traveling means I have more time to focus on developing material (like this post)
  4. Focus on research; limited travel also will allow me to focus more on research in more areas. I might even learn something.
  5. Re-connect with colleagues I have not spoken to for a while and develop new ideas and concepts / resurrect previous ideas that were parked due to time restrictions
  6. Start focusing on the events and workshops that will happen once the restrictions have been lifted.

Each country is applying different measures are different speed. However, one thing is clear, we all must adapt to stem the spread and give us the time to find a cure.