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Potential Future Scenarios for COVID-19 Epidemics/Pandemics over the next 18 Months Posted on July 2, 2020


By futurist speaker Paul Higgins

The COVID-19 pandemic has left a lot of people in fear and confusion.

In recent discussions with clients I realised that there was a need for some foresight-based work to help them clarify what their strategy might be over the next 18 months. I have written some scenarios for specific clients, but I also have a view that disseminating some summary scenarios is useful for a lot of people. Therefore, I created this summary and made it freely available so people can be better informed, and others can weigh in with critiques.

The central core of my foresight work is that people need to hold multiple pictures of the future in their heads. They can then adjust their strategy depending on which picture seems to be emerging in the real world. An uncertain and rapidly evolving situation like the COVID19 pandemic is the exact situation where such an approach should be used.

I have a unique set of skills in this area. As well as holding a Masters degree in Strategic Foresight and having worked as a consulting futurist across many organisations in the last 20 years, I am also a veterinarian with experience in disease outbreaks in animals. I was also an inaugural director of Animal Health Australia, an entity which was formed to respond to exotic disease threats. I have participated in both preparedness exercises and the real thing as a veterinary participant in the peak response committee in Australia.

I am not claiming expertise in human epidemiology, but I think that my experience allows me to bridge the gap between the science and people trying to run organisations in these challenging times.

I am using Australia and New Zealand as the basis for scenarios which are applicable globally. The scenarios are based on three key drivers:

1. The basic science behind viral transmission in outbreaks.

2. The behaviour of people in response to an outbreak.

3. The political and economic responses to an outbreak.


The scenarios are:

Contained Epidemic/Pandemic

Extreme containment measures work to reduce the Pandemic and eliminate the virus in a country or region.

Acute Epidemic/Pandemic

Containment measures do not work, and cases rise exponentially in individual countries and across the globe.

Extended Epidemic/Pandemic

Containment measures work in a limited way to slow the pace of the epidemic.

Rolling Epidemic/Pandemic

Containment measures work to significantly slow the epidemic, but reduction of those containment measures allows the epidemic to gain pace again. This repeats several times.

Very Low Rate Extended Epidemic/Pandemic

High level containment measures work to significantly slow transmission but do not result in elimination of the virus.


I have also included a Wildcard scenario set that looks at potential for different infection patterns.

It is my belief that the understanding that flows from scenarios like these can achieve three things:

1. A reduction in levels of uncertainty and fear.

2. Increased capacity to create strategy right now.

3. Increased capacity to respond to the inevitable change and shocks will occur.


How to Use Scenarios for your Organisational Strategy

Scenarios are essentially stories about what might unfold in the future.

They should not be taken as gospel even if one closely resonates with your view of the future.

The actual future will be different from the scenarios I describe here but they are still useful because they help you:

1. Understand more of the possibilities and third and fourth order impacts of changes.

2. Think through the impacts on your organisation if the scenarios come true.

3. Test your organisational strategy in multiple scenarios to think through strengths and weaknesses.

Having said all that, we live in a time of great uncertainty. This is not a time for grand strategic plans to be rolled out and fixed in stone.

It is a time to have plans but continually re-assess them to navigate your way through change.

By holding some of these pictures in your head and continually revising them, you can think through what might be happening and what might happen next.

A Disclaimer

Scenarios are just stories so please treat them like that. Futurist Jim Dator once said that scenarios are:

"truthful, but not necessarily accurate, statement about the future."

If these scenarios help you think more clearly then that is great but please do not become fixated on a single viewpoint of the future and take other advice before taking action.


Please get in touch if you wish to read the Paul's in depth detail on this.