COVID-19 Economic cases: Scenarios for business leaders

Outlooks on the economy, society, and more for resilient leaders

The COVID-19 pandemic challenges business leaders to stabilize amid a crisis and prepare for a newly uncertain future. These economic case scenarios inform short and mid-term strategic, operational, and financial planning.

Economic cases for resilient business leaders

The COVID-19 pandemic challenges leaders to stabilize amid a crisis and prepare for a newly uncertain future. The decisions businesses make in the near term will most likely drive how the entity is sustained in the long term. Now is the time for resilient leaders to take decisive action to soften the shocks yet to come, and at the same time prepare for what may change in the months ahead.

This document, Recover/economic cases, is designed to guide leaders in strategic, financial, and operational planning over, the next 18–24 months, as the Respond time frame emerges into Recover.

Each of the economic cases posits a potential future state—including trends in epidemiology, society, technology, policy, and the environment—leading to corresponding economic implications.

These economic cases are not predictions about what will happen; they are hypotheses about what could happen, designed to frame planning discussions.

Explore COVID-19 Economic cases: Scenarios for business leaders

Mild economic case

What if the pandemic eases sooner than some experts anticipate? What if effective public measures combine with faster testing to contain the virus and lead us out of the crisis phase in the next few months? Small- and medium-sized businesses will surely be hurt, and the economic impact can’t help but be sizable. But something like “normal” returns, even if it’s not the same as before.

More business and social activities have moved online—and are staying there. Perhaps there’s growing respect for public institutions and medical expertise, and a new appreciation for reliable information when lives are on the line. And as we come out of our homes so that life on the street returns, the new appreciation for our friends and neighbors, and even the loss of some treasured local shops, remind us not to take those things for granted.


  • Relatively constrained disease dynamic and effective health system response
  • Outbreak recedes in China and North Asia; supply chains begin to recover
  • Virus spreads rapidly in European Union and United States
  • Warmer weather in summer helps to limit the outbreak
  • Revival of virus in autumn is dealt with through testing and tracking rather than shutting down the economy
  • Overall, stifled human movement limits spread of virus

Society, technology, policy, and environment

  • Increased social cohesion emerging from periods of quarantine
  • Acceleration in tech development, with more businesses’ models shifting online
  • Growing respect for public institutions and local government as their efforts appear to slow the pandemic


Economic activity rebounds in late 2020 as the virus dissipates. Recovery initially is slow but speeds up in second half of 2021 as consumers become more confident.

  • Dramatic change in behavior and public policy
  • Deep but quick recessions in European Union and United States; small and medium businesses disproportionately impaired
  • Substantial fiscal programs in European Union and United States help to limit damage

Please refer to the full economic case in the attached PDF for additional details

Harsh economic case

What if the pandemic lasts longer than we’re ready for, with waves of infection continuing through summer, maybe into the fall, keeping us in crisis mode for months? A prolonged recession with weak supply and weak demand, combined with financial system shocks, wreaks havoc on social and economic life. But maybe not all countries suffer to the same degree. Those which faced the pandemic sooner and reacted more aggressively bounce back faster, while those slower or less consistent in their responses are hurt more deeply and for longer. Before long, virtual life is real life in many places.

Will those companies that can still invest accelerate their investments in robotics and other techniques to reduce their reliance on human labor, subject to the disease? Or will the need to rebuild the economy and restart consumption favor policies that promote getting people back to work in 2021?


  • Outbreak in China mostly contained, but some revival due to inbound travel
  • European Union and United States have severe outbreak, which comes in waves and lasts until early 2021
  • Virus contained by early 2021

Society, technology, policy, and environment

  • Extended and severe virus leads to all things virtual as the norm
  • Comfort with life online increases, even among previous holdouts
  • Technologies of the fourth industrial revolution accelerate in development due to greater demand
  • Mixed environmental impact occurs
  • Centralized surveillance mechanisms become more prominent


The virus follows a wave pattern, abating and then peaking again in multiple global geographies. Economic recovery begins late 2021. Recovery slow in early 2022 and speeds up by second half of 2022

  • Chinese economy rebounds slowly
  • Deep and prolonged recession in the West affects supply chains and consumer demand
  • Fiscal stimulus limits business failures, but does not boost spending

Please refer to the full economic case in the attached PDF for additional details.

Severe economic case

What if the pandemic fools us into thinking we are making gains when in fact we have mistaken the foothills for the mountain? What if the countries that today seem to have things under control face a return of the virus, while those still struggling today find that the pandemic outruns every effort at containment? And what if we discover that the world is just too big, as the virus cycles (and mutates) between wealthier nations and the emerging economies they trade with?

Will even the most invasive fiscal and monetary interventions in history fall short? Will societies begin to shut down as health care systems overload? Yes, technology adoption will grow, but so will distress and suspicion. Is privacy—about our health, our whereabouts, the people we have been near—a luxury we can no longer afford? How would our calculus of trust change?


  • Outbreak returns to North Asia, with negative economic consequences
  • EU and US outbreak is prolonged, coming in multiple waves
  • Efforts at stifling activity are only partly successful
  • Near-complete shutdown of society occurs
  • Health care system is severely disrupted
  • Severe outbreak in emerging countries; possible feedback to West
  • Containment is achieved in the West by late 2021, largely due to herd immunity

Society, technology, policy, and environment

  • Social cohesion begins to unravel; suspicion of others becomes the norm, and xenophobia rises
  • Technology advances to meet society’s virtual demands; government obliges data-sharing
  • Economic recovery is prioritized over fighting climate change
  • Isolationism is practiced globally, with strict border controls and shortened supply chains


The pandemic continues with severe infection rates into 2021 until either herd immunity and/or a vaccine reduces the virality. Economic recovery by mid-2022. Significant risk of cascading outbreaks with feedback loops, limiting recovery

  • Financial system breaks down despite central bank efforts
  • Fiscal stimulus is substantial, but fails to boost spending
  • Many business failures and household disruptions occur
  • Widespread and enduring nationalization of industries takes hold

Please refer to the full economic case in the attached PDF for additional details.

2020 vision can be myopic

There are numerous macro uncertainties that affect any near-term economic cases, many of which present either additional upside opportunities and/or downside risks beyond the accompanying economic cases. Our COVID-19 economic case scenarios for business leaders explore risks, opportunities, and the areas where these dynamics intersect.

These economic cases represent a range of possible economic circumstances as the COVID-19 crisis evolves. It is too soon to tell which of these, or other cases will emerge, but resilient leaders are preparing now for what the future may hold. For more information, or to explore the implications of these economic cases on the future of your organization, please contact us.

Please refer to the full economic case in the attached PDF for additional details. 

Explore opportunities and risks

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