Unanticipated aspects of a pandemic

As a result of the coronavirus, more than a quarter of Italy’s population is now prohibited from leaving its region, and public events, including funerals and weddings, are banned.

I can hardly keep up with today’s headlines, much less picture what the coming months are going to be like.

I understand that, in many countries, travel will be restricted, and many of us might have to self-isolate in our homes, and the economy will be severely shaken, and there could be a lot of deaths.

But beyond that? Anyone want to speculate about consequences that are not yet on our radar?

Massive disruption of supply chains in the short term; political instability; mortality spikes; then normality and prosperity. We can look at the Black Death and 1918 Flu as models. Terrible at the time, then back to something like normal - till the next event.

Potentially infrastructure collapse, no police, no medical personnel.

Long term, if it was really, really bad, you might see reversals or slowdowns of a number of trends, and accelerations of others.

For example, tolerance of large homeless populations could collapse if the public health issues in the Bay area and Los Angeles lead to a disaster.

Telecommuting and remote work may accelerate.

Globalism could take a hit, as companies learn that they might need to trade some absolute efficiency for redundancy and safety.

The EU could collapse. It’s already floundering, and open travel through the EU zone and the inability to close borders could become a serious problem.

Depending on how hard Iran is hit, the current regime could finally lose its last shred of credibility and control, and there could be a revolution, either quiet or violent.

China could come out of this with a huge blow to its trade. Depending on how many vital goods and medicines are made unavailable through supply-chain breakdowns sourced to Chinese suppliers, we could see massive shifts away from China.

The migration of peoples around the world from low density towns and rural areas towards high density cities could slow down or even reverse. The coming revolution in satellite internet availability could feed into this, as could increased acceptance of telecommuting and remote work. Such a trend could lead to massive shifts in wealth between states as property values decline in one area and increase in others, and high value, high paying jobs can be done from anywhere on the planet.

Xenophobia could rise.

The world economy has been propped up with massive amounts of debt ever since 2008. A crisis like this could be the catalyst that causes systemic financial collapse, cascading bankruptcies, and ultimately a global recession or depression.

Climate change will slow as fossil fuel consumption collapses along with manufacturing output and the general economy.

As stresses on populations and therefore leaders grow, there will be wars, riots, and a turn to authoritarianism on both the left and right.

Those are all guesses. No one knows what’s going to happen. I could probably paint scenarios in which all the above are exactly reversed. The world is complex and unpredictable.

If the Coronavirus eventually fizzles out without a deadly global pandemic that kills hundreds of millions, I suspect that everything will return to normal, with changes as above only on the margins, or not at all.

Lessening stress on Social Security funding as lots of elderly people stop collecting it. Also, less complaining from Millennials about Boomers refusing to retire and give them their jobs. Possibly a fall in demand for reruns of Murder She Wrote, Diagnosis Murder, Matlock, and Walker Texas Ranger.

India produces a good fraction of pharmaceuticals used worldwide and they’ve said that they will restrict exports if they feel something is needed domestically. So perhaps that will encourage the US to develop domestic production facilities, at least for critical stuff (although there is a long list of critical drugs).


People treating pandemics like hurricanes and snowstorms.
They’re stocking up on things like water and toilet tissue.

I also didn’t really expect the anti-asian racism.

Gun and ammunition sales will significantly increase.

Gun shows will be major infection hotspots. Materials shortages will cause US firearms and ammo producers to shut down as supply chains deteriorate. Homecrafted bows and arrows will proliferate but archery fairs will also become infection hotspots. Homecrafted slingshots will proliferate; mass shootings will likely dwindle but beware poisoned darts.

At which time we’ll all start throwing rocks.

I’ve seen entries on social media from people who purchased a case of toilet paper, because they were running low at home, and getting weird looks and even comments about it. :o

Cats and dogs living together…

We’ll finally find out for sure if people choosing to age in place are responsible for the massive shortfall in affordable housing.

It’s a shame that COVID-19 is deadly, because so far it’s been a great benefit to me.

Traffic is light–driving to work is a breeze. So is parking; normally the lots are work are packed, but now that a large fraction of the company is working from home, I’ve been getting excellent spots. The cafeteria is not as jam-packed as usual, and the lines are short. In the offices, it’s quiet. I loathe noise and the difference has been notable. Some automated systems at work which always seem to be overloaded and have many-hour work queues now complete in minutes.

So while I hope that the actual pandemic ends as soon as possible, I also hope that the panic continues at least a little longer. It has been a very relaxing week.

Even at the worst, it doesn’t look like any more than a few thousand elderly people could die in America from Covid-19. That won’t even make a dent in Social Security funding.

Decreased pollution from people commuting to work. Decreased deaths due to traffic accidents. Increased awareness of basic hygiene.

It appears that smoking is a major risk factor, so it is possible that this epidemic triggers a long-term decline in smoking particularly among Asian men.

I recall one of a set of future disaster scenarios in the 11/1995 WIRED (I can’t access it because paywall and I gave away my copy) but IIRC a lengthy global pandemic will close borders to physical objects including people. Electronic data transfers, fine. But if your lover is across a frontier, you can only exchange digitized DNA codes - same if you want to breed your champion animal with a foreign critter or import a new crop strain. Beware hackers. You don’t want your children or chickens to grow antlers.

Otherwise, unanticipated consequences depend on a pandemic’s severity, duh. CoViD-19 might burn out in a few months, or drag on miserably for years. Hope for the best; plan for the worst.

I don’t expect toilet paper to become a medium of exchange (money) but funnier stuff has happened.

I’m really wondering if the COVID-19 pandemic produces lasting social change. And the only one I really mean addresses my pet peeve – people not washing hands, avoiding face-touching, unnecessary touching of communal items, just sitting in common areas sniffling and coughing and hawking up and swallowing.

Problem is, I’m guilty of many of those behaviors from time to time. I try to improve, but I didn’t really have it drilled into me as a child, and its seems like the latest group of young adults hasn’t really learned it either.

I remember SARS, but thought it was nothing at the time and since. I briefly heard of MERS, now I hear that MERS, like COVID-19 are genetically similar, likely jumps from animal population to human. That suggests to me that new upper respiratory infections are going to start happening. Are they teaching better habits to grade school kids? ANd are they sticking.

Okay, it is kinda hilarious that you live in utter terror of every appliance in your house but are blasé about a world-changing pandemic.


First, the mortality rate is thought to be significantly lower than the 1918 Spanish Flu in everyone but the elderly and infirm (0.4% or less for people under 49, 1.3% for people in their fifties), where the death rate is expected to be considerably higher (about 15% for people above 70, and 3.6% for people between 60 and 69).

For most people who catch it(~80%), the data is showing that most have a flu-like illness- fever, cough, malaise, etc… and that’s it. What makes this significantly different is how communicative it is- the R0 value is between 2 and 3, which means that every person infected tends to infect more than 2 people, but less than 3. Contrast this with influenza’s R0 value of 1.3. So it’s highly and rapidly transmissible in a population- which we saw in Italy, where they reported 20 total cases on 2/22, 229 on 2/24, 374 on 2/26, 888 on 2/28, 1694 on 3/1, 2502 on 3/3, and so on, with 10149 as of yesterday. If you graph it, it looks awfully exponential.

What’s likely to happen (in my non-scientific opinion) is that a LOT of people are going to start reporting it in the next few weeks, with it really getting going about the first week of April. I suspect that what’ll also happen is that a lot of people will be home sick, hospitals will probably be strained severely, but for most people, we’ll just be sick and get over it and go back to work. But for a period of some weeks, things will be weird, in that services and stuff will be somewhat unavailable with so many people out sick. But not societal collapse; we’re not going to go all Beyond Thunderdome because a bunch of people have coughs, fevers and body aches.