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"People won’t allow themselves to be restricted in the long term."

The Corona pandemic is currently putting us through a crisis not seen since the Spanish ‘flu 100 years ago. Once the crisis is over, will we be completely different people in a completely different world? Mobility talked about this to Lucerne-based futurologist Georges T. Roos. A snapshot at Easter 2020:

Exceptional rules of conduct currently apply in response to coronavirus. Which of these do you think will become the norm for us as individuals?

I assume that we will have to live with coronavirus for quite some time to come. Vulnerable individuals will have to be put under special protection at least until a vaccination is available for them – which in turn means observing certain rules. For a while, even people outside the risk group may be more reluctant to give others a peck on the cheek to greet them, but we should be able to overcome this – at least if nothing worse happens.

"It’s always difficult to strike a balance between freedom and security."

What should the norm be for companies and organisations?

I see an opportunity here for companies, society at large and especially the healthcare sector to move ahead with the digital transformation. For example, only now have many companies gone to the trouble to create the infrastructural requirements that allow people to work from home, on the road or from co-working sites. Some of this will be retained – after all, flexibility in work is very appealing to a lot of people. And the fax machine in doctors’ surgeries will probably soon be obsolete for good.

Man is a creature of habit. Will people want to make up for all the things they’ve missed out on for months on end?

Lots of people long to go out for a meal again, visit a bar or watch a football match. And go on holiday too, of course. But there won't be an awful lot we can catch up on: when the summer season ends, we won’t all be going to buy summer clothes. And I really don't think you’ll see people going out to restaurants for dinner every evening. So as I see it, there won’t be a marked rebound effect, although it would be good for the economy if consumer sentiment were to return to positive territory soon after the restrictions are lifted.

"Private transportation and automobile traffic will increase for both work and leisure."

Data protection and privacy in general have come under further pressure from coronavirus. Will people accept this?

This is a critical question, which I will answer in two scenarios. The first is the bio-control scenario: the state controls our bodies by telling us how to keep ourselves clean and how close we can get to other people. If the fear continues for a long time or potentially even increases – for example due to subsequent pandemic waves – the tendency in the political and business domain will be to expand hygienic control measures. It’s always difficult to strike a balance between freedom and security: as the risks increase, the willingness to submit to such restrictions might well increase, too. Digital means would then be used here – after all, they’re ideally suited to this purpose.

And the second scenario?

In this model, there is an increase in the awareness of the value of privacy, freedom of movement and the democratically legitimised exercise of power – enhanced by our collective experience of a state of emergency. The population is fully aware of what the restriction of many liberal values means and puts up resistance. From today's perspective, the second scenario is more likely: people won’t allow themselves to be restricted in the long term.

How will mobility change?

We can expect an increase in individual transportation and automobile traffic, for both commuting and leisure activities.

What makes you believe this?

I expect public transport to be used less than before for some time to come: no one will want to go straight back to travelling on an overcrowded bus or train. Many people will switch to other modes of transport wherever possible. I also assume that even after coronavirus, companies will be able to offer more employees the opportunity to do part of their work from home or use co-working spaces. This will also result in something of a decline in the use of public transport for commuter mobility. In my opinion, the aviation industry is right to anticipate that pre-coronavirus frequencies will not be achieved for a long time, since it is likely to be several months before people start booking holidays abroad again. On the other hand, coronavirus will not affect the trend towards the electrification of cars and scooters.

Founder of a privately financed futurology institute and the European Futurist Conference Lucerne, Georges T. Roos is Switzerland’s leading futurologist, a sought-after keynote speaker and author of various studies.