Published on 13 May 2020
As the Government sets out its five-point plan to bring the country out of lockdown, just what will a post-coronavirus world look like?
Economists have warned of the long-term financial impact that could burden future generations, while mental health charities fear the psychological impact of recent months may have taken a heavy toll on many people.
Economy, industry and retail and leisure
Professor Lawrence Bellamy is Academic Dean for the Faculty of Business, Law and Tourism at the University.
He said: “The Covid-19 occurrence will have a substantive and permanent impact on the way which society operates in the future. The forced adoption of different ways of working, socially interacting, shopping and undertaking leisure will stay with us.
“More people will now spend more of the time working from home. This will mean a reduction in demand for office space, reduced transportation requirements and congestion and an increased reliance and need for good information systems and technology. For those industries which are knowledge-based then specialist workers could input from anywhere.
“Some industries are likely to boom, with high demand for online shopping and associated supply and distribution driving custom to those organisations who are well-organised in marketing and delivering their goods and services, either locally through the whole process or through a well-organised global supply chain.
“Having made the conversion some people may not go back to being a ‘traditional’ consumer with trips to the shops, now that they have learnt about online convenience and developed the skills and confidence.
“The weaker retailers will be shaken out leaving fewer stronger firms in control of the overall spend. However, small innovative firms who are starting out online may find new customer opportunities in the changed market too.
“Leisure time and virtual consumption will continue to grow, with large platforms having seen continued growth in demand. Games, media, interactive content are high-tech and skills associated with content generation as well as delivery are important.
“The upskilling requirements for existing organisations are likely to be just as large as the demand for new workers in these sectors. These ‘products’ can come from anywhere.
“The overall economy will be significantly challenged, both by recovery but also by long-term debt, with the Government billions being pumped in currently needing to be recovered over time.
“There will be winners and losers in this, but also at a personal level where pension funds may be hit and people may need to work for longer to be able to afford to retire. Investors will start to refocus their portfolios towards the growth areas.
“Uncertainty around large investments is also likely to take a while to ease, putting off the new car or house move perhaps, or new shopping centre. Travel too will be held for many, with alternative more local holidays, staycations and home projects taking precedence.
“There will however be a bounce-back in some areas, for example where projects have been held and require completing. Construction often offers green-shoots first.
“So overall it will be a very mixed picture, with the only certainty being that tomorrow will not look like today and will be very different from yesterday.”
Psychological impact and changing behaviours
Dr Helen Driscoll is Principal Lecturer and Team Leader for Psychology at the University of Sunderland.
She said: From a psychological perspective, there are a few reasons to expect that people will find it difficult to go back to previously normal behaviours such as using public transport, eating out, working in offices etc.
“Firstly, by the time this is all over, we will have adjusted to a new 'normal'. Because we have to consistently engage in social distancing behaviours over a prolonged period of time, these will have become habitual and we will not simply be able to switch them off overnight and go back to how we used to behave.
“Social norms, by necessity, have changed. We no longer greet people with a handshake or a hug, and we may cross over the street to avoid contact with people.
“These kinds of behaviours have become our new social norms; they are the behaviours that have been expected of us, and enforced. People will feel unsure about whether they should go back to previous social norms, and if they see others continuing to engage in social distancing, may feel that it would be unacceptable.
“I would expect that many people will continue to fear infection, even in a situation where Covid-19 is under control. Humans have a strong survival instinct.
“Infectious disease was one of the most significant threats to survival during human evolutionary history, and this has made us very sensitive to the threat that infectious disease poses.
“The images we have seen on TV of Covid-19 patients and deaths, and the social distancing and hygiene measures put in place have made us hyper aware of the threat of infectious disease. This hyper awareness may continue past the point at which Covid-19 is a serious risk.”
Social impact and adjusting to a new society
Drew Dalton is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Sunderland
He said: “I think after the Covid-19 lockdown and moving into the ‘post-Covid’ world, we could see one of two responses – or probably a mix of both.
“Firstly, an outpouring of people into public spaces and leisure outlets in order to socialise after weeks of lockdown, which may raise the risk of a second wave, unless this is done more cautiously.
“Secondly, and less discussed, reluctance of some people to initially engage with the social world due to fear of infection and fear of public gatherings or simply a new embedded way of being with a smaller social geography, which may take longer to un-learn.
“Due to this, we may see a drop in business in some sectors and we are already at risk of seeing some businesses and charities - who are not eligible for current funding schemes - not return to normal or re-open.”