Contributed to the Globe and Mail by Elio Luongo and Jennifer Shulman
Elio Luongo is CEO and senior partner of KPMG in Canada and Jennifer Shulman is national lead partner, economic services
As the Prime Minister stated last week, physical distancing is the new normal until a vaccine is developed – likely at least a year away. He also said it will probably be a "few months" before Canada is in a position to consider allowing people to return to their regular workplaces and routines in any meaningful way. And that the approach will need to be done in a "measured, graduated way" to avoid further outbreaks.
While that day may be many months off, it is critical that we start work today on what measured and graduated looks like, and consider steps to expedite this process without threatening the progress made on "planking" the infection-rate curve.
The reality is, even when restrictions begin to ease measurably, we certainly won't be able to all jump back on public transit and head into the office, store or factory.
To safely and effectively restart the economy it will be critical that we prioritize the industries, communities and people that should go back to work first. And throughout, we will need to conduct continual testing and timely contact tracing because we cannot risk another outbreak that shuts us down all over again.
There will be certain sectors that society will need up and running as fast as possible, and other parts of the economy that, while not essential, can safely go back to work. All of this will vary by province, underlining the need for unprecedented levels of intergovernmental co-ordination.
However, it will be equally important for citizens, business and government to realize that the economy and the way of work that we return to will not be the one we left prior to the pandemic. As with any crisis, there is much we can learn from the way we adapted to this challenge.
For many sectors and people, the way we work and the way we interact will be forever changed. We will have tested new technologies and found many are just as good, or better, than how we operated in the past. For many, working from home will be the new normal.
While it is too early to know the true long-term implications, an extended period of physical distancing is likely to have a lasting impact on the way we shop, consume entertainment and view the rest of the world. We can expect these changes to reshape health care, education and supply chains in Canada and around the world.
That said, it is also important to realize that we are only weeks into this, even if it feels like months. There are elements of the "pre-COVID" world that we will want to continue, to return to normal again. We need to be thoughtful about the changes we want to keep as a result of this.
But while the physical distancing associated with this pandemic is driving a shift in the way we work, it also points out key areas needing investment. To drive an economic rebound, our governments must be ready with targeted and strategic stimulus for all regions of our economy to not only kick-start the country but to invest in areas that will make our society and economy better positioned for the future.
This will likely include investments in digital technologies to enhance the speed and responsiveness of the way we do business as well as our ability to support the new virtual work force, virtual education system and virtual health services. All of these will be critical to ensure our measured and graduated recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recent government measures have been critical in helping businesses and individuals contain the damage from the recession. But to get to recovery, governments, and indeed all Canadians, must not waiver in our commitment to physical distancing – lives and our economic recovery literally depend on it. This means new investment in technology that will allow Canadians to be tested – and receive immediate results – in our homes, so we can avoid new outbreaks.
The transition from containment to recovery through to the end of the inevitable recession will require the continued collective management skills and participation from all levels of government, the central bank, the Canadian business community and every citizen.
Canadians are resilient and resourceful and we believe we will come out of this crisis stronger – if we all continue to do our part by adhering to the government and public health guidelines and play our part in the economic recovery.
The faster we plank the curve, the smaller and shorter the real economic impact will be.
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