In 1920, the 29th president of the United States, Warren Harding, built his campaign around his new word, “normalcy. It was a call to Americans that meant it was time to forget the horrors of World War I and the Spanish flu pandemic. Instead, it was to return to the certainty of the Golden Age.
But instead of settling for Harding’s normality, the “rattling ’20s produced far-reaching, risky social, industrial and artistic innovations,” writes The Economist).
The war had something in common with the irrepressibility of the jazz era. So did the flu pandemic, which killed six times as many Americans as the war, leaving survivors with a desire to live the 1920s at speed. The same spirit will bring the 2020s to life.
The widespread suffering due to COVID-19, the injustices and dangers the pandemic exposed, and the promise of innovation will all make this year one that will be remembered as world-changing.
The pandemic was a once-in-a-century event. SARS-CoV-2 has been discovered by more than 70 million people. And it is quite possible that another 500 million or more who have never been screened have been infected with it. Coronavirus has caused 1.6 million recorded deaths. Hundreds of thousands more simply went undetected.
Millions of those who survived live with the debilitation and complications of so-called “long term COVID-19”. World GDP is at least 7% lower than it would have been without the pandemic. And it is the biggest global collapse since World War II.
“Out of the ashes of all this misery will rise a sense that life should be lived, not put off,” the article says.
Another reason to expect, or at least hope for, change is that COVID- 9 was a warning. The 80 billion animals slaughtered for meat and fur every year have become petri dishes for viruses and bacteria to evolve into deadly threats to humans. This happens about every decade.
In the year 2020, it’s payback time. And the bill turned out to be astronomical. The clear blue skies that emerged after sending entire economies under quarantine were a powerful symbol that COVID-19 is a rapid crisis built into another, slower one. But both are very similar to each other. Like the coronavirus pandemic, climate change has become the subject of populist objections. It also causes global disruption, and it will be much more expensive to deal with in the future if it is neglected now.
And the third reason to expect change is that the pandemic has exposed injustice. Children miss school and too often go hungry. Graduates and those forced out of school have again seen their prospects evaporate. People of all ages faced loneliness or violence at home. Migrant workers were abandoned to their fate or sent home to their native villages, where they took their illness with them. This suffering differs for people of different races. A 40-year-old Hispanic-American is 12 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than a white American of the same age. In Sao Paulo, black Brazilians under 20 are twice as likely to die from the coronavirus as whites.
As the world adapts to living with infection, this disparity gets even worse. Studies have shown that 60% of professionals who make more than $100,000 a year for their jobs can work from home. Meanwhile, among people in positions that pay less than $40,000 a year, only 10% can perform their duties at home. In the worst-case scenario, according to the UN, the pandemic could make more than 200 million people extremely poor. Their plight would be made worse by dictators and would-be tyrants who used the coronavirus as an excuse to consolidate their power.
Perhaps this is why pandemics have caused social unrest in the past. The IMF studied 133 countries from 2001 to 2018 and found that unrest begins, on average, 14 months after the epidemic begins. And the peak comes after 24 months. And the more unequal the society, the greater the uprising. The foundation points to the vicious circle that emerges: the protests intensify the difficulties that feed the protests.
Fortunately, COVID-19 not only pointed to an urgent need for change, but also pointed to a direction for forward movement. This was partly because it became an engine of innovation. Under quarantine, digital commerce’s share of U.S. retail sales increased by as much in 8 weeks as it had in the previous 5 years. As people started working from home, the number of commuters in the New York City subway decreased by 90%. Literally overnight, businesses such as The Economist began operating from different rooms and kitchens. Under other conditions, it would have taken several years to prepare such an experiment.
The upheaval is just beginning. The pandemic was proof that change is possible even in conservative areas like health care. Thanks to cheap capital and new technologies, including artificial intelligence and perhaps quantum computing, innovation will span sphere after sphere.
Recall that on January 30, the WHO recognized the coronavirus as a worldwide problem. Later, EU authorities launched the Horizon 2020 innovation program for coronavirus research.
Coronavirus COID-19 cannot be stopped in the European Union, as stated by the head of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen.