The COVID-19 pandemic, combined with the problem of climate change, has become a warning to humanity.
Against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, many have already forgotten what a “normal life” is. The sheer scale of suffering from COVID-19, the injustice and danger the pandemic has revealed, and the promise of innovation mean that 2020 will be remembered as the year when everything changed, writes The Economist.
Pandemics are once-in-a-century events. SARS-COV-2 has been detected in more than 70 million people and the virus may have infected another 500 million or more people who have not been tested or even aware of their disease.
This led to about 1.6 million deaths being reported; hundreds of thousands were left out of the official statistics. Millions of survivors, having to contend with exhaustion and problems left behind by the disease. The world economy has declined considerably, the greatest decline since World War II. From the ashes of all this misery will emerge a sense that life is not worth wasting.
One reason to expect change is that COVID-19 served as a warning. The 80 billion animals slaughtered each year for food and fur are true carriers of viruses and bacteria that turn into deadly pathogens for humans every ten years. This year has vividly demonstrated this cause-and-effect relationship.
The COVID-19 pandemic combined with climate change has been a warning to humanity. Like the pandemic, climate change ignores populist objections but causes global disruption, and over time the consequences could become even more fatal if neglected in the future.
Another reason to expect change is that the pandemic has emphasized injustice. Many children lost the opportunity to learn, some even went hungry. School graduates saw their prospects for the future recede. Many people became victims of loneliness or violence at home. Migrant workers were kicked out of their jobs, and they “drove” sickness home. Racial tensions also grew. As the world struggled to adapt to the new conditions, lawlessness only worsened.
The UN predicts that the pandemic could force more than 200 million people into extreme poverty. Their plight would be exacerbated by authoritarians and would-be tyrants who used the virus to increase their power.
Perhaps this is why pandemics in the past have led to social upheaval. The IMF looked at 133 countries from 2001-2018 and found that “unrest” usually escalated about 14 months from the onset of the disease, and peaked after 24 months. The greater the inequality in society, the greater the upheaval. Indeed, the IMF warns of a vicious cycle in which protest only increases hardship, which in turn fuels protest.
COVID-19 didn’t just trigger the need for change, it also points the way forward. This is partly because the pandemic has served as a driver of innovation. Under quarantine, e-commerce increased dramatically. As people worked from home, subway fare declined. In a critically short period, a lot of companies went on an experiment by sending their workers to work remotely.
However, most of the changes are now in their infancy. That said, the pandemic is proof that change is possible even in conservative industries such as health care.
Fueled by cheap capital and new technologies, including artificial intelligence and perhaps quantum computing, innovation will come in a variety of areas.
Further technological advances in renewable energy are a vital step toward replacing fossil fuels.
The coronavirus also revealed something profound about how society should relate to knowledge. Chinese scientists consistently analyzed the SARS-COV-2 genome over several weeks and shared the information with the world. The new vaccines that have emerged as a result are just one stop in the progression. It’s a great demonstration of what science can accomplish.
Also, the pandemic has led to innovative governments. Countries that can afford it – have stifled inequality by spending huge amounts of money to fight COVID-19.
Many people who are forced to comply with quarantine conditions ask themselves what is most important in life. Governments should take this as inspiration, focusing on policies that promote individual dignity, self-confidence, and civic pride. They must change welfare and education, and take on the role of a lasting force to open new frontiers for citizens. Something good can also come from the misery of the pandemic era. Change must include a new social order, the publication concludes.