The COVID Diaries: SSA 6

The following interview is with a funding executive from an issuer in the sovereign, supranational and agency sector. It was conducted on 28 May 2020.

Does your business have a timeline for returning to office working – and are you looking forward to it?

Yes, I am – although spending more time with my family has been of great benefit to me. I get to see my children more often than I would otherwise.

But there is a limit, and I think a balance needs to be struck – or at least in my case it does. I would like to spend some time in the office but I am not sure if I would be comfortable doing it yet because being in an office environment greatly increases the risks of bringing the virus home – and that would be my biggest concern.

The approach of our institution depends on where our offices are located around the world. Generally, staff have the choice to work from home still if that is what is comfortable for them. Our institution has taken a conservative approach to returning to an office-based work environment.

There seems now to be a change in emphasis to reopening the economy globally. How are you thinking about this balancing act where you are now?

As important as the economy is, people’s lives are more important – noting that they are also adversely affected by the lockdown itself.

Reopening the economy all comes down to coordinated and timely action, such as increasing testing capabilities, in response to flare ups of COVID-19 in the community. A number of things could have been done differently with reopening the economy where I live.

I am worried personally that too soon of a reopening can result in an increase in cases given this country has been pursing mitigation rather than containment. At the same time, reopening the economy is not a simple task as there are outbreaks in various parts of the country.

Do you subscribe to the view that this crisis will radically reshape our society? What do you think will change and what will areas that some might think will change will actually revert to previous norms?

The whole idea of remote work and how people adjust to it, and the expediated development of online platforms, systems and companies that have their business models based on the internet, is going to be an inevitable result of the pandemic.

A lot of this will be dependent on the pandemic itself: to what extent it will be contained and to what degree it will be with us, availability of vaccination and whether vaccines will have a lasting effect or whether boosters or new vaccines will be needed.

The decrease of globalisation is something that will be more pronounced as a consequence of this, too. We will see people depending more on domestic production and global supply chains scrutinised further – with a focus on safety and resilience as opposed to efficiency and cost. This will affect prices as globalisation helps cut prices of goods.

I believe the tourism and airline industries might be affected permanently as availability and cost of travel, as well as demand for it, will suffer.

“I would like to see governments return to pre-pandemic levels of monitoring the populace. The growing role of governments across the globe means this might be wishful thinking, though.”

Speaking of which, when do you think you will next get on a plane? Are you looking forward to or dreading travelling again – for business and leisure?

I quite enjoy travelling and I like to hope that sometime next year I will be able to go travelling. But it will be dependent on the availability of a vaccination and how travel is conducted – for example how airports adjust and how airlines adjust their seating, checking in or waiting arrangements.

Considering how the virus can spread through close direct contacts on flights or in terminals, a number of precautions would need to take place with the awareness of potential asymptomatic transmission.

The lack of travel has had a positive affect on the environment, particularly the air quality in some places. It is quite an eye-opener that a tangible effect of that magnitude can be achieved, so hopefully cutting greenhouse gas emissions will see an increase in popularity.

Do you really think there will be a renewed enthusiasm for tackling climate change?

I certainly hope so. You can see the impressive yet unintended results occurring from cutting emissions through this pandemic shutdown. Perhaps at least some of that can sustain or catalyse change.

Economically, we are talking about a huge amount of stimulus coming from central banks with rates being pressed to zero across countries. This will result in a higher debt burden and higher risks associated with the debt overhang. The level of fiscal stimulus deployed to come will only increase the role of governments, regulators and central banks in the years to come. Perhaps their role could be steered towards ESG support, hence offsetting the social cost of the pandemic and global warming at the same time.

What are you most looking forward to being able to do again as restrictions ease in the coming weeks and months?

Sending my kids to school. We are all missing the social environments we inhabited prior to the pandemic but I have a sense that children miss it much more than adults do

To an extent I miss the office. Being able to communicate across a desk with a number of people is a lot easier than a video call.

One other repercussion of COVID-19 is that governments are more inclined to be interventionist in people’s lives, in terms of monitoring. I certainly would not want some countries to see this as an opportunity to introduce draconian rules of oversight and control. I would like to see governments return to pre-pandemic levels of monitoring the populace. The growing role of governments across the globe means this might be wishful thinking, though.

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