This is an impact of the pandemic you probably didn’t see coming

Sharp economic decline is the most frequently cited non-health related outcome associated with the COVID-19 crisis. Unfortunately, commercial immobility impacts several systems alongside the global economy—few of which can be reliably anticipated in real-time. 

Researchers from the University of Sydney just formally introduced a potential consequence of the pandemic that you might have already observed anecdotally. According to their theoretical models, mass migration is a common consequence of civil unrest. 

Once the smoke clears, populations will likely relocate around the world in an effort to better their odds of survival in a post-pandemic world. 

“While governments around the world have called for restrictions on migration during the post-pandemic recovery phase, people who have been affected by economic collapse or worsened health conditions may consider short-term or even long-term relocation to safer regions,” explained Professor Mikhail Prokopenko in a university release. “Epidemics are examples of wider contagion phenomena which also include social segregation, ‘infodemics’ – waves of misinformation, and social unrest,” explains Prokopenko. “Our theoretical modeling suggested that, when faced with either threat or opportunity, people tend to avoid risks, seek an advantage, or both.”

Moving forward 

The crisis-induced mass-migration theory actually has historical precedent. Toward the end of World War II, Europe experienced a mass exodus of its citizens with many eventually settling in Australia in the decades after 1945.

Similarly, following the Civil War, just before the first populist movement and the foreign banking catastrophe that inspired it,  America struggled to support commercial markets with an influx of transplants looking to capitalize on western expansion. 

Between 2015 and 2016, the Syrian conflict displaced more than four million people who dispersed across the world seeking refuge, while the Ebola crisis concurrently kept them from returning to their homes.  The fallout ensured temporary and permanent relocation in equal measure. 

“While Ebola outbreaks affected only relatively small areas of the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected almost every country and continues to spread. Therefore we can expect far-reaching impacts that may boost global and regional migration,” continued Professor Prokopenko.

The model employed by the researchers traced a “contagion” spread in an abstract geographical region, where hypothetical figures representing residents made choices to stay or move around. The method observed how changes in individual preferences affect the behavior of a large community. This combined with data on distressed nations from the past motioned fairly grounded projections. 

“We showed that large-scale collective behaviors, such as migration, can result from very small changes in human decision-making”, said the study’s lead author and Centre for Complex Systems Ph.D. student, Nathan Harding.

“In other words, even if individuals re-assess their risks only slightly, their combined actions can bring a tipping point in terms of population resettlement.”

However accurate this method, the effect its findings will have on globalization can only be guessed at this early on. 

There are a lot of factors to account for influencing potentialities in this respect. The largest telework movement in the world might mitigate damage endured by the global economy. Digital communication technology could very well open economic avenues previously un-considered as could celebrities continuing to cover Beatles’ songs on social media.

The model is theoretical and would need to be calibrated and validated with more in-depth real-world data to identify specific scenarios.  

 CW Headley is a reporter for the Ladders and can be reached at