From the arts to Zoom: ToI’s subjective look at winners and losers amid COVID-19

As some countries, including Israel, have started easing restrictions imposed on their citizens in response to the coronavirus pandemic, now may be a good time to try to identify the winners and the losers of the havoc that has befallen the globe.

The death toll and the number of people diagnosed with COVID-19 continues to rise, even as unemployment soars, educational and cultural programs wither, and isolation reigns under social distancing regulations.

For the lucky ones, streaming media is consumed as avidly as hand sanitizer is applied.

But with baby steps being taken gingerly toward a resumption of commerce and schooling, The Times of Israel has compiled a preliminary tally of those who have come out ahead, or behind, thanks to the crisis. The list is purely subjective, and only time will tell if there will be others that need to be added.

The winners…

Germaphobes: Yes. Hard to believe, but those neurotic people that used to go around pre-coronavirus disinfecting everything, opening bathroom doors with their elbows and constantly washing their hands have finally been vindicated. The masses of the cheerfully unhygienic are the ones who have been proven wrong.

The internet: Things would have been very different had we not had the internet to help us communicate, work, learn, buy, and stay sane during our social distancing. Online banking and shopping and movie streaming have all become possible due to the strides in internet connectivity over the past almost 30 years.

Zoom Video Communications Inc: The Silicon Valley-based videoconferencing-tech firm is definitely one of the stars of the coronavirus pandemic, allowing for businesses to hold online meetings, schoolchildren to continue classes and families to stay in touch — including joint virtual Passover Seders, funerals and other religious services. Founded by Eric Yuan in 2011 and listed on the Nasdaq a year ago, Zoom has seen its market value skyrocket to some $42 billion, even as the company’s user security policies have come under scrutiny.

President Reuven Rivlin meets family members over Zoom as Israelis are under a national lockdown as they celebrate the last day of Passover on April 14, 2020 (Twitter)

Digital health, telemedicine: Traditional healthcare gets a tech boost as robots and technologies are used to remotely monitor patients and find ways to keep the virus under tabs. Tytocare allows physicians to remotely examine patients using stethoscopes, thermometers, and lung monitoring; EarlySense has developed a technology for the real-time delivery of actionable data along with patient data management tools that allow physicians to pinpoint and prevent potentially serious medical situations before they escalate. These technologies and others are set to play major roles in medicine as healthcare and tech continue to merge.

E-commerce retailers, supermarkets: With people were told to hunker down at home to avoid the deadly virus, e-commerce retailers have flourished as consumers turned to online shopping for their needs. Amazon, for example, the world’s largest online retailer, could emerge from the pandemic stronger than ever, according to Bloomberg. The Seattle-based company, which sells books, household goods and other products through its flagship website, also controls the Whole Foods grocery chain and offers cloud computing and video streaming services. Jeff Bezos, the company’s founder and CEO who owns 11% of the US giant, has seen his wealth surge by $24 billion in 2020, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, reaffirming his position as the world’s wealthiest person.

In Israel, the shares of supermarket chains such Victory Supermarket Chain Ltd. jumped 11 percent between February 10 and April 16, while another chain, Freshmarket, rose some 10%, compared to a 21% drop in the TA-125 benchmark index in the period, with demand surging as consumers stockpiled food, toilet paper, eggs and hand gel amid the coronavirus lockdown and ahead of the Passover festival in April.

Israelis shops for groceries at a supermarket in Jerusalem on March 18, 2020 (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Tracking techniques: From apps in Singapore to thermal cameras at hospitals and accessing private phone and credit card data, as done by Israel’s Shin Bet internal security agency, various methods have come into play to trace our whereabouts and tell us if we have been in touch with a coronavirus-infected person. Once these technologies and tactics have been deployed, how easy will it be to roll them back when the crisis is over?

Delivery, takeout services: With restaurants banned from operating sit-down services due to social distancing restrictions, they have turned to delivery services to cater to customers. The Israeli delivery platform Wolt, for example, has seen a jump in usage and has had to hire hundreds of new couriers.

Toilet paper, wet wipes, disinfectant gels: As a fear of running out of toilet paper spread across the globe and as heightened hygiene requirements upped the demand for hand sanitizers and wet wipes, the manufacturers of these products have seen a jump in production and orders. In Israel, the shares of Albad Massuot Yitzhak, an Israeli maker of wet wipes, surged 65% between February 10 and end of day April 16. Sano-Brunos Enterprises Ltd., a maker of cleaning products, jumped 7%, bringing its 12-month gain to 32%. The TA-125 benchmark index declined 21% in the same period.

A merchant selling alcogel hand sanitizer to passersby in central Jerusalem on March 18, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/FLASH90)

Netflix, streaming services: In self-isolation, streaming services have become the lifeline of many as they binge on television shows to stave off anxiety and boredom. As long as the internet infrastructure holds up, firms of this sort will weather the coronavirus storm quite nicely.

And the losers are…

Social gatherings, hugs and kisses, large weddings and funerals: Big social gatherings, for festivals, happy or sad events, and routine gestures of affection will be among the biggest fatalities of the coronavirus pandemic. Will we ever get back to our normal huggy habits?

Travel, hotels, tour guides, cruise ships: All of these will be hit by the curbs on travel and movement. The more a country benefits from tourism, the more it will feel the pinch — such as Israel, Italy and Spain. Tour guides are seeing their groups canceled and have no idea when their income will resume. Fattal Holdings 1998 Ltd., one of Israel’s largest hotel owners, with 38 hotels and 16,700 rooms under management, plunged 66% in the period — compared to a 21% drop in the TA-125 benchmark index. As cruise ships became a Petri dish for the spread of the virus — over 20 have had confirmed cases, the most notorious being the Diamond Princess, where over 700 passengers become infected — will travelers ever want to go aboard again?

Passengers stand on the deck of the Diamond Princess cruise ship anchored at Yokohama Port in Yokohama, near Tokyo, February 12, 2020. (Yuta Omori/Kyodo News via AP)

Entertainment, concerts, sports events, shopping malls: In Israel, Melisron, the owner of shopping malls including the prestigious Ramat Aviv Mall in Tel Aviv, saw a 44% decline in the February 10-April 16 period. As entertainers and concerts go online — see Andrea Boccelli’s YouTube Easter concert from a vacant Duomo in Milan or the “One World: Together At Home” TV special concert that raised millions of dollars to fight the pandemic — will we ever go back to crammed concerts, rowdy sports events and packed movie theaters? What will we miss out, if not?

Illustrative image of hairdressing or haircutting tools (iStock by Getty Images)

Hairdressers, and small businesses in general: The sobbing falafel vendor who pleads to just be able to resume work has become the face of the plight of small businesses in the coronavirus crisis. These businesses are the wheels that keep economies chugging, and yet will bear the biggest brunt of the lockdowns. As women and men worldwide cut and color their own hair, some for the first time ever, will they ever go back to paying for these services?  Many small businesses are destined to fold unless they get credit to tide them over this critical time.

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Written by Aakash Malu


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