You can see the sun starting to break through regarding our year-long slog with the coronavirus. Citizens everywhere scan the news, delighted that case numbers and deaths remain in decline. Provinces are relaxing restrictions. Businesses are making plans for how to build back their customer bases. And governments are already speaking about getting back to some sense of normality. It all sounds sensible, but such an outlook denies realities both at home and abroad.
Domestically, there are going to be massive bills to be paid to address the significant government outlays that kept our country relatively stable. Normally, following traditional recessions or economic downturns, economic productivity returns at certain levels, but what to do when a significant percentage of Canadian businesses have drained their savings in surviving the pandemic, where thousands of workers won’t have a job to return to, and where customers have grown quite comfortable with their online options. There will be no convenient end to Covid-19, leaving hospitality and service sectors endeavouring to overcome the overriding health concerns that will plague us for some time yet.
For the top eight largest economies, the McKinsey Global Institute forecasts that 100 million workers will have to find new employment as the pandemic ends. It also reports that the restaurant, hotel and retail sectors might never recover.
This is serious stuff, and as the world gets distracted by the virus rates, little attention has been given, by politicians or media, to the wall we are about to face as cases decline. That avoidance will cost us as we seek to rebuild this year. You can see it everywhere. Food banks are reporting increased numbers. Lack of affordable or public housing in our cities likely means that our homeless populations will be larger than before the pandemic began. Our unemployment numbers are significant. Both public and private savings have been decimated.
While Canada has every right to commend itself and its leaders for staving off the disaster that hit other regions, we appear woefully underequipped to prepare for what comes next. The vulnerable are now more vulnerable. The poor are now more insecure. Businesses are less solvent.
That’s part of the reason why a group of NGOs, anti-poverty groups, some businesses, and UN agencies wrote a letter to the G-7 leaders last week, challenging the prosperous nations to build “a new global agreement to better predict, prepare and protect the vulnerable people around the world from the big risks we face.”
Even the global response is so lopsided and steered away from the poor to the richer nations. This time last week, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres was informing the Security Council that, in 130 countries, not a single dose of the vaccine has been made available. There are 195 countries in the world. That means that almost 70 percent of the global community of nations hardly registers with the other 30 percent. These are parts of the world where companies build and ship products for the global market. How is that going to work when it comes to global trading? We aren’t thinking correctly and, thus, we are unprepared.
It has now been projected that the United States will have 453 million spare doses after it vaccinates 100 percent of its population. Canada is following a similar pattern. We are doing what the rich nations have always done from the days of empire – gathering up most of the benefits for themselves. In a globally connected world, however, where products are coming from everywhere, it means that the world’s economy will struggle for years through the inequities we are permitting to expand.
Our future is in the process of being reshaped. Sadly, we aren’t the ones doing the shaping – events are, and that presents a frightening scenario to a weakened world laid low by an invisible virus. “Planning is bringing the future into the present,” Mike Vance wrote sagely. If we don’t undertake that hard work now, then the future will happen to us, and we won’t like it.