The coronavirus pandemic truly is a situation that shaken most of our lives, and brought about an uncertainty that was without precedence in our generation.
At the time of writing this article there are 4,196,784 confirmed cases across the world with 284,034 deceased. Although the consequences are tragic, and will be even worse considering the social and economic repercussions, some are marginalising the situation while others call this pandemic the biggest challenge society has faced since World War II.
Is it really so? It seems like at this point everyone has their own theory but, I’ll try to answer this question and give you a little insight into how we - at Beside the Park - reacted to the danger in the beginning and what actions we have taken once new information about the virus emerges daily from all regions of the globe.
It is hard to believe, but over 4 months have passed since the very beginning of the novel coronavirus outbreak. It is still uncertain what exactly caused it, but the first official reports date back to the end of December 2019. On December 31st the government in China confirmed that they were treating a number of cases of an unidentified pulmonary disease, followed by the confirmation of the identification of a new virus only a few days later.
The situation grew worse at an alarming pace from there. On January 11th China confirmed the first death and on January 20th South Korea, Japan and Thailand confirmed their first cases. It soon became apparent that this virus is not only spreading very rapidly but that it also causes a significant part of the population to require hospitalization and specialized treatment. In Poland we had our first confirmed case on March 4th, leading the government to declare a partial lockdown of the country on March 12th (closing down schools, restaurants, shops, border traffic, etc.), with stricter restrictions being introduced over the next few weeks.
In the beginning the lockdown seemed like a good idea. If the goal was to limit the spread of the virus and the consequences of the pandemic we had to self-isolate in our homes and wait it out. This was the common consensus, and it seemed to have worked in China. By the time Europe or the US was significantly affected by known cases, China already had their reported numbers rapidly decreasing with news of the Chinese industry being restarted.
However, it was after the restrictions were already in place that we realised that this may not have been the perfect solution. Firstly, from the economical standpoint it wasn’t hard to predict that freezing very prolific industries such as travel, gastronomy, entertainment, culture, sport, etc. would have a great impact on the economy. Secondly there are unforeseeable consequences in terms of the social problems. The scale of the psychological side-effects will only become apparent months after the tide of Covid-19 has receded.
Not all the countries however followed the same course regarding their crisis management. For example, the South Korean model focused on identifying infected individuals with the help of drive-thru testing locations combined with the use of a mobile technology to backtrack where infected individuals were and who they may have come into contact with coupled with an application which informed the citizens if they had been near an infected individual. Technology was effectively employed to map individuals who had greater risk to exposure and to quickly isolate any individuals who were possibly infected as a precaution.
The Swedish model, on the other hand, had almost no restrictions enforced by the government. The Swedish legal system gave the decisive power to the state epidemiologist instead of the politicians, so the only changes that have been made in Sweden consisted of a national ban on visiting retirement homes and the prohibition of public gatherings with more than 50 people. The Swedish Public Health Agency believes the best way to combat the spread of the virus is to isolate the elderly - who are at risk the most - and let the rest of the population function normally so that a herd immunity is developed much quicker.
Due to the rapid spread of the outbreak, there was little time to take under consideration all the possible outcomes and consequences - the world has already started the global beauty contest by the name: “Who will do the most against the coronavirus?” Now, that some time has passed, new information is coming in about the virus and it seems it was not as dangerous as we thought all along.
The studies done in the United States and Sweden on limited communities with serosurveys (type of tests looking for particular antibodies in the blood - suggesting the patient was already infected with the virus) implied that the actual number of infected people is 50-80 times higher than the recorded number; therefore the mortality rate of the disease is significantly lower - between 0,1% and 0,8% based on different sources - which is comparable to the seasonal influenza.
The observations here in Poland also suggest that the disease should not be considered as such a high risk threat to society at large. With 803 deceased after over two months from the outbreak, the coronavirus seems to be much less deadly than many other, “common” causes of death. Based on the data from 2018, in the same period of time in Poland over 2,000 people died from acute heart attacks and more than 17,000 from various types of cancer. Only with the passage of time will we be able to note if there was a statistical rise in the death rate during the Covid-19 outbreak.
Predicting the future is a big challenge in these ever-changing times. The current predictions and economic models seem to indicate a grim economic outlook for the near future. A global recession is nearly certain at this point with experts debating whether it will reach the level of the 2008 crisis or be much worse. The price of a barrel of oil has decreased over 50% and for the first time in history the production of oil worldwide was intentionally reduced due to lack of demand. Central banks are back to the practises from 2008 of pumping capital into the private sector to preserve financial liquidity. The demand for the workforce has already decreased almost 40% in comparison to the same period last year, and the unemployment rate is likely to rise. Normally with a situation as dire as this we would expect the government to help the people as much as possible, but when observing the current situation only new questions arise.
This is where our experience in working remotely from outside the office came in handy; however, the first couple of days were chaotic as everywhere. Some people were still coming into the office, while others preferred to stay at home to minimize the risk of infecting their loved ones. As the restrictions were enforced all over Europe, our clients also decided to put their work on hold as they waited to see what the future will bring. It seems natural that in times of crisis and uncertainty everyone approaches their spending with greater caution. Fortunately, after the initial state of shock we quickly reorganized to meet the new challenges. We decided to start working only remotely, relocated resources to serve all the active clients and save the costs on projects put on hold, scheduled very frequent calls so that everyone was on the same page, and concentrated on closer collaboration within project teams.
Taking into account the recent data and socio-economic situation, after a few weeks of the lockdown we started to discuss the possibility of coming back to work in our office. While there is a degree of risk to all age-groups of the population, our office does not have anyone who would be considered part of the “high risk group.” Keeping in mind the available knowledge of the seriousness of Covid-19 along with the social and economic impacts of working from home, we decided to survey our developers and let them give their opinion. The results showed a near-even split in opinions, with some preferring to stay at home while others wanted to return to the office. We felt confident that we could create functional project teams from within the office, as well as having other developers who are worried for the safety of their families work from home. This way we were able to provide everyone with the conditions that would suit them best. As much as possible we are trying to return to a state of normalcy.
Now we can start the process of reshaping Beside the Park to adapt to the new reality that surrounds us. Having spent some time on the defensive side of the coronavirus battle (limiting spending, terminating agreements, managing the crisis situation), we feel it’s time to take in the new market reality and adjust our business. One of the first big changes we decided on is digitizing our documentation. We’d like all of our administration to be paperless which should reduce our maintenance costs, allow us to sign contracts remotely, simplify the potential relocation of our office(which may be needed considering the impact of Covid on the real estate market) and is generally much more environmentally friendly. There is a long way to go in order to make Beside the Park even more agile and effective than before, but we believe that we (and any entrepreneur out there) should take a step back and look for opportunities that may arise from this world wide crisis.
When working on this article we used various source, some of which we believe are not well established within the public, hence here are the link to the most interesting ones: