Cometh the hour, cometh the growth opportunity


Kate Greenaway’s illustration from Mother Goose or the Old Nursery Rhymes (1881), showing children playing the game

Three sectors are flourishing in the age of the novel coronavirus, Covid-19:

  1. New words and phrases
  2. New crimes of opportunity
  3. New openings for commerce

Yesterday, I wrote about the crop of words and phrases already being harvested from the coronavirus outbreak. Click here to read it. If you don’t, here’s a reminder of some of the new vocabulary:

  • Social distancing
  • Self-isolation
  • Testing
  • Tested positive
  • Quarantine
  • Work from home
  • Lockdown
  • Caremongering

And ordinary phrases such as “wash your hands” and “tested positive” are taking on new meaning.

Let’s address the new crimes of opportunity. An excellent example came on March 16 when South Africa’s central bank warned citizens against scammers who visited homes to “recall” banknotes and coins they said were contaminated with the novel coronavirus.

The bank said the criminals carried fake identification badges and provided false receipts to victims, who were assured they could exchange the slips for “clean” cash at any bank. But the bank said it had “neither withdrawn any banknotes or coins nor issued any instruction to hand in banknotes or coins that may be contaminated”. It added: “There currently is no evidence that the Covid-19 virus is transmitted through the use of banknotes and coins”.

And then there is the booming market in fake anti-coronavirus products. Apparently, Interpol has found counterfeit and substandard masks and many sham Covid-19 medicines in a massive operation across 90 countries. The FT reported that “the coronavirus outbreak offered an opportunity for fast cash, as criminals took advantage of the high market demand for personal protection and hygiene products, the global police organisation said”.  Apparently the swoop, named Operation Pangea, had Interpol member states inspecting more than 326,000 packages and seizing more than 48,000 during the week of March 3-10. The operation led to 121 arrests and the seizure of more than $14m of potentially dangerous pharmaceuticals.

Finally, some companies have responded to the opportunity offered by a world in lockdown.

Amazon has said the coronavirus outbreak has caused a surge in online shopping and that it will add 100,000 new full-time and part-time positions across the United States to keep up with the demand. And Time Out, the magazine and website that offer a guide to entertainment and eating out in many cities, has become Time In.

With the rebranding, Time Out has recognised the effects of the policy of “social distancing” and gone on to advise on the best takeout and delivery restaurants and “The 40 best movies on Netflix right now”.

Other commercial opportunities, gratefully seized are as follows:

Instacart, the US delivery service, said business was surging. Restaurants in the US and UK are moving to delivery and no-contact options. Universal Pictures has announced it will make its in-theatre movies available online to Americans in quarantine. This means abandoning the “theatrical release window” and breaking what may be Hollywood’s last taboo.

Other sectors expected to do well:

  • Videoconferencing tools
  • home tutoring services
  • cleaning companies
  • delivery drivers