It would seem that the pandemic has accomplished the unimaginable--it clipped our wings, stripped away our illusion of invulnerability and brought humanity back down to earth. As if by Nature’s cough, countless lives have been ruined and micro-companies snuffed out before ever glimpsing their true potential. Even scores of once-mighty corporations, formerly seen as unassailable bastions of fiscal power, have been toppled from their ivory towers and now litter the smouldering economic landscape like helpless, terminally-cracked Humpty-Dumpties.
This month the Pacific Journal of Medical Sciences (PJMS) published my article, Commentary: The New Coronavirus COVID-19. The thought piece was written to draw attention to fundamental questions, many of which have been neglected in favour of seeking answers to more complex, urgent and/or exciting riddles. However, verifiable, clear, concise, and, above all, accessible public information should have been at the forefront of every government’s containment plan from the onset of the crisis.
The WHO concluded that regarding the origins of COVID-19 “all hypotheses remain on the table”, as more in-depth studies are required to substantiate theories and draw infallible conclusions.
The world economy is in shambles, fallen titans of culture, HORECA, transport, travel and MICE industries lie groaning in ruins. In 2008 it was the banks that needed bailing out… now it’s everyone else. For several years economists have been predicting the next recession and market crash, well, here it is… in slow motion. Pundits predict that even if the pandemic is reined in by the end of this year, it will take the better part of a decade to heal the wounds wrought upon the world of business and return to steady growth.
Optimists might argue that the world-wide quarantine is the perfect incubator for a different kind of economy, catalysing the rise of new industries, as businesses scramble to ‘go viral’ in the virtual world. After all, the online shopping and home entertainment sectors have flourished like never before—in 2020 the video game industry exhibited an explosive growth spurt, with revenues shooting past Hollywood and sports. Already back in 2013 the video game Grand Theft Auto broke six world records, “including the Highest revenue generated by an entertainment product in 24 hours and the Fastest entertainment property to gross $1 billion.” Today, fuelled by the isolation-induced thirst for entertainment, video game sales across all platforms are through the roof.
Furthermore, surveys show that from a personal perspective, those of us able to work from a home office are much happier, as this format enables us to conserve the most precious resource any of us possess: time. Working from home we can spend an extra 2-4 hours per day with our families and on learning new skills, rather than waste time on getting dressed up and commuting in overcrowded carriages or helping to crowd-source traffic jams. Indeed, these welcome transitions are sorely needed, but the difference between evolution and freakish mutation often comes down to pacing. When change happens too suddenly it often results in a crisis, as the rest of the world can’t keep up.
For instance, we all recognise that the world must turn away from fossil fuels. However, it would be sensible to conduct a careful assessment, engineer a comprehensive plan and then transition away from inefficient pollutants in controlled phases, over the span of two or three decades. It would be folly to attempt to blitzkrieg our way through the myriad associated issues within a year or two, i.e. decommission perfectly good vehicles and thereby cause much more significant waste of resources, as well as vast economic and environmental devastation. Indeed, 2050 is a reasonable estimate, assuming there is a sincere appetite to evolve words into actions. Needless to say, 2025 is not a realistic target for the lofty goal of ushering in such a fundamental paradigm shift in reality.
The education sector also received a remarkable boost, as online learning has really taken off with the advent of Zoom and similar meeting technologies.
The fashion industry has churned out scores of creative mask designs, innovative makeup and accessories, designed to accentuate the eyes. Indeed, the eyes have most certainly overtaken lips as the most attractive facial feature, in this world conquered by health-conscious ‘ninjas’.
The latest WHO figures reflect the correlation between the logistically inept, lethargic vaccination programmes and the pandemic intensity. In a nutshell, our containment efforts thus far, are yet to put a dent in the propagation of the disease, as we stand in the shadow of its third wave. As I wrote in the PJMS article: “Just like no one counts the ocean waves crashing on the shore, we will soon lose interest in counting COVID waves. What matters is not the number of waves, but that we learn and adapt with each wave to make their effects ever less devastating.”
My parents sent me a birthday wish, sharing the meme which reads something along the lines of: “Remember way back, when we would gather together and eat a cake after someone had blown all over it? Wow, we were wild!” Too true. The world has changed, not just for the hospitality sector, but the paradigm of every person’s existence has been shaken to the core. When asking “when will things go back to normal?” We already instinctively know that the answer is: never. The virus is not man-made, but the idea that in a year or two the world will return to pre-pandemic standards is pure fiction. For from here on out, our generation will all lead an edgy existence, looking over our shoulders at the year the world stood still, AKA 2020. Humanity is lucky that COVID-19 is a stern wake-up call and not a civilisation-ending Great Filter event. Had the SARS-CoV-2 virus (pathogen of COVID-19) been more vicious, for example like the Ebolavirus, which has a 25-90% fatality rate, the post-pandemic world would be a desolate place indeed. Hopefully, the current pandemic is the shot in the arm humanity needed to inoculate us against more dangerous threats lurking in our future—the jolt to awaken our sleep-walking, uncivilised civilisation.
Furthermore, none of the vaccines guarantee 100% protection and factual, individual resistance fluctuates wildly from person to person, sometimes markedly deviating from the baseline average put forth by the vaccine producers. For this reason, I suggested adding a quick, personalised antibody test to the frontline arsenal. In a year or two, such an over-the-counter test should be a staple of every home’s medical stash, on equal footing with bandages or a body temperature thermometer, as taking a vaccine when the antibody count is too high may have adverse effects or at best be completely unnecessary.
Now that the proverbial Pandora’s Box has been cracked open, COVID-19 will, most likely, still be a factor by 2030, so annual or perhaps bi-annual vaccination will become something of a solemn ritual. Without a doubt, the ‘new normal’, for people of common sense, will involve facemasks in subways and heightened hygiene for the foreseeable future. Governments will tighten oversight of the hospitality, food, travel and entertainment sectors, to ensure public safety and envisage snap restrictions and clamp-down measures at the first sign of imminent danger.
Our lives will remain tinged by paranoia and fear of the unknown, as we cannot and, indeed, should not forget the stark mistakes of the recent past. The very survival of our species depends on our ability to learn from the past, plan and make wiser choices in the future. The most effective way to contain and combat fear is by facing this invisible nemesis, learning all we can about it and sharing the knowledge as quickly and as widely as possible.
There are two primary antagonists in this COVID-19 saga: Mother Nature and human ignorance. For the average person, the whims of Mother Nature are impossible to contend with, ignorance, however, is a curable affliction. The pandemic exposed a smorgasbord of systemic gaps and failures including: callous negligence, inane incompetence, appalling lack of ethics and so on.
But the ‘horsemen of the pandemic’ are, without a doubt: panic, ignorance and greed. Capitalism, certainly has its merits, in its moderate-phase it is a useful wrench to tighten the nuts and bolts of a midsized economy, however, when it comes to resolving extreme crisis, such as war or pandemics, it is more like a wrench dropped into a gearbox at full throttle. There is an undeniable conflict of interest between price-gauging of the highest bidder to churn out perpetual profits and finding speedy, decisive and, above all—permanent solutions to life-threatening crises. Indeed, the two concepts are diametrically opposed and incapable of being brought into harmony. Like an angry hornets’ nest, the Internet is abuzz with sickening stories of sociopaths who reaped blood-money from the pandemic by corralling vital supplies of sanitizers, PPE, etc. at the dawn of the pandemic thereby engineering shortages and acting as de facto agents of death, allowing the pandemic to engulf the globe.
Indeed, when the dust settles and we have a handle on the situation, it will be lovely to see wanton greed and incompetence properly punished, in particular when it comes to failures in leadership.
Why are sociopaths like New York’s Andrew Cuomo and Swedish top ‘Epidemiologist’ Anders Tegnell, whose reckless incompetence and wanton stupidity directly lead to the deaths of thousands of people, still walking free? Should they not be behind bars, atoning for their criminal negligence? A drunk-driver who inadvertently causes the death of one person is put away for 3-5 years for making poor choices, which lead to manslaughter. So why is it so hard to put away obtuse cretins in power, who cause the deaths of thousands, by advocating against social distancing, maliciously misinform people about the benefits of wearing PPE, hygiene, isolation and other logical safety measures? People lost their lives needlessly, due to a paucity of common sense and catastrophic failures of leadership. They cannot just shrug that away and lament in hindsight how sorry they are, it is plain to see that what motivates these dastardly criminals at present is their keen foresight, regarding the ramifications of acting otherwise and absolute eagerness to escape justice and save their own skin.
In contrast, the Chinese government understands the risks posed by the disease and got the priorities right from the start. That is how China was able to contain the disease. Whether one believes the official figures coming out of China or not, it is impossible to refute the fact that China has outperformed all of the large countries in terms of efficiency, vaccination and social discipline.
My PJMS article is a direct appeal to the scientific community to come together and bestow enlightenment upon the ‘unwashed masses’. Definitive advice, apart from "wash more often" is sorely needed. I shared personal safety tips and hygiene hacks to survive the pandemic, drew parallels between the generous, progress-driven and efficient approach to handling the crisis, exhibited by China (where 22 million citizens had been inoculated against COVID-19 by the end of January 2021, versus the EU vaccine logistical fiasco, where petty politics and fear resulted in most countries having vaccinated well under 20% of their populations by the end of March 2021. In contrast, the UK, free from the shackles of EU bureaucracy is closing in on 50% of its just-under-70-million-strong population. Malta is sitting pretty at 35% by requisitioning far more than its fair share of shots (which resulted in a sizable scandal) and Hungary has protected over 20% of its citizens by buying Sputnik V from Russia. Other EU nations are mostly well under 20%, notably, under 6% of Latvia’s 1.9m population has been vaccinated by the end of March 2021.
To put that into perspective, the number of people protected in China two months back, by the end of January, is 11 times the entire population of Latvia. The incompetence exhibited by the EU would be comical, were it not so tragic and simply disgraceful.
I concluded the article by quoting a Chinese proverb: 我 抛砖引玉 (lit. "I throw a brick, hoping to dislodge jade", fig. to attract feedback from others by putting forward one's own modest ideas to get the ball rolling).