We need to prepare for when we emerge from this public health crisis and how we will respond to a very changed world.
With record numbers of people now unemployed, we need to support a major back-to-work effort. Some will not be in a position to go back to former employment and major programmes of upskilling and reskilling will be essential.
There is real recognition now of the importance of experts, of scientific investigation and of trusted sources. We need to support research to deal with the fallout of the pandemic and address future challenges.
That research is not just in the sciences. The social impact of current events will be significant - for example, how our mental health may be affected, how we can safely socialise while awaiting a vaccine and how we can build on our communities working together.
People have become more used to remote working and using technology to interact from home. Companies and organisations will now more realistically assess how this can help operations.
In education, teaching has had to move online and there has been incredible innovation by teachers, lecturers and trainers. The response to the pandemic will speed up dramatic changes in how courses are delivered.
Higher education institutions are being forced to examine their business models. A huge drop in international student numbers, combined with the loss of other revenues, will be damaging but a new role for the sector, using technology and playing its part in societal transformation, beckons.
The technology we are using now is just a taste of the dramatic changes ahead and the convergence of technologies such as 3D printing, artificial intelligence, blockchain, nanotechnology, biotechnology and virtual and augmented reality will transform everything from public administration to supply chains, and they will have effects on how and where we work in ways we may not have yet imagined.
These changes will also happen against the background of other potentially huge shifts - climate change, an ageing population and global migration. We need our citizens to be prepared for this brave new world.
It is essential any new government has a focus on rebuilding post-Covid-19 and on using innovation and new technologies to improve all our lives.
It requires a whole-of-government approach but there needs to be specific responsibilities with a senior minister.
Therefore, I believe it is vital we have a department of higher and further education, research and technology, with a specific brief to lead the upskilling of workers post-crisis, to plan for reskilling, which will be needed as a result of technological change, and to support investment in research which will improve our lives. We need a minister at the cabinet table backed up by a department and agencies looking at where the world and technology will be in 2030, 2040 and beyond. It will mean changing our education models as well as identifying what new digital platforms or processes are coming and how they will affect different sectors. How do we ready our construction sector for when we can use 3D printing for building homes and other facilities within a decade?
How do we equip our retail sector to deal with virtual reality shopping?
What happens to those in banking, accounting and other "intermediary" roles if blockchain technology takes off?
There are questions of security, privacy, regulation and ownership that will all require investigation as well as people to do those jobs. Such a department would allow the Department of Education to place specific emphasis on the holistic development of the young person. It would also more clearly define the Department of Business as one to look at how to support companies and employment creation.
We are in a major period of global disruption. Our brave healthcare workers are bringing us through the current crisis. We will need to get people back to work. But we also need to be ready for other challenges coming down the line.
The architecture of the new government as well as any new programme for government must reflect that.
Malcolm Byrne is a Fianna Fáil senator and was head of communications at the Higher Education Authority