15 Sep 2020 20:27 IST

Covid-19: A lesson in humility for the human race

It’s time to rethink our relationship with nature and each other, after living in a pandemic-ridden world

It’s hard to believe that it was in March that the world closed its airspace to passenger flights and imposed draconian lockdowns. No one then could predict how the world would look in September of 2020. So what happened during these six months?

There have been 29 million cases of Covid-19 and 9,25,000 deaths across all 213 countries and territories of the globe. Nearly 20 million have recovered. The pandemic has been the most destructive in five countries — the United States, India, Brazil, Russia, and Peru — accounting for over 60 per cent of cases and 50 per cent of all deaths.

World awaits a vaccine

There is still no cure for Covid-19, but the vaccine landscape looks promising. According to The New York Times, there are 51 different vaccines under various stages of maturity, from the initial Phase I (25 trials) to the more advanced Phase 3 (9 trials), where, vaccines are in large-scale efficacy tests. Three vaccines have already been approved for early or limited use.

Covid-19 is known to rapidly transmit through droplets or aerosols when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks; through the air, for up to three hours. When someone inhales the air that is contaminated, or touches a surface that an infected person has previously touched or coughed on, they are most likely to contract the virus.

Harsh consequences

In the global economy that we live in, every human interaction suddenly became a source of a deadly virus transmission. With no cure or vaccine, governments were forced to shut down or severely limit all forms of public transportation, restaurants, bars, resorts, gyms, schools, colleges, sporting, and music events. Businesses, factories, offices, places of worship, or any establishment that required human congregation had to be shuttered.

The economic consequences have been devastating, four times harsher than the 2009 global financial crisis. According to the OECD, growth in the G-20 nations representing 80 per cent of the world’s GDP, fell 6.9 per cent in the second quarter, a record. The biggest growth declines were in India (- 25.2 per cent) and Britain (- 20.4 per cent).

Governments have responded with unprecedented fiscal and monetary stimuli. In the United States, Congress passed additional spending, the size of which is nearly as much as the annual budget, just to help the country cope. The Federal Reserve, the ECB, and the Bank of Japan collectively injected over $10 trillion through quantitative easing approaches.

But governments can only do so much. Food insecurity, even in advanced countries, has sky-rocketed. Major demographic shifts have occurred, with nuclear families forced to merge with those of elder generations, unable to afford to live independently. The family members living in close proximity have caused increased tensions within homes. Suicidal tendencies and depression rates have gone up dramatically.

Children have practically stopped learning as remote schooling has been proven to be not as effective; worse, young students are forgetting key skills. The gap between the have and have nots has never been greater. Millions of gig workers — domestic helpers, nannies, cab drivers, coolies, day labourers — have been impoverished.

A humble lesson

A single virus has shown that the world’s governments, for all their projected authority and assuredness, have been failures in confronting it. The scientific community never saw the virus coming and although Covid-19 is a variant of the known Coronavirus family, not a single lab had foreseen its genetic structure. The World Health Organisation has still not held China accountable for its wet markets, or the initial spread of the virus, or for withholding information to the world.

Protected by government pay checks when everyone else was financially demolished, officials kept issuing diktat after diktat, often on the fly, with many rules in hindsight, looking silly, unnecessary, and overreaching. Epidemiologists initially told us that Covid-19 was just a variant of the flu and would go away; that the use of masks was not required. Government scientists couldn’t agree with economists and policymakers who had serious differences with those responsible for suggesting and implementing lockdowns.

In India, low-level police officials enjoyed the power that was suddenly bestowed on them — setting up roadblocks and beating lockdown violators with sticks. Many citizens could not pay their final respects to loved ones who died alone. Today, pandemic management around the world has resulted in nothing positive except for governments to say that were it not for stringent measures, things could have been a lot worse — a horribly low standard of performance measurement.

Nature’s resurgence

Outside of death, financial, and emotional ruin, there actually have been positives. The biggest victor has been the environment. For decades, climate change activists have scolded citizens for excessive mining and consumption of our precious natural resources. With no law passed or no accord signed with the clinking of wine glasses, Earth is now a purer place to live in. Oil consumption is way down and some large energy companies are predicting that demand growth is over, forever.

Covid has shown that many of us no longer need to go to work to produce. Without commutes, people have more time for themselves and their families. We no longer have the excuse not to exercise even if it means just going out for a walk. With crowded sit-down restaurants acting as super spreaders, we are cooking more healthy fare at home. Video conferences among friends and family have increased dramatically. When we limit social gatherings, illnesses such as the common cold and the flu have become less common.

All the industries will forever change. The burdens on public transportation will go down, and the madness of having to continuously build infrastructure will be quelled. Fewer new office and hotel buildings will be constructed, resulting in lesser urban sprawl. Mindless jet setting is a thing of the past.

The world has changed in six months uncovering two realities. First, the human race is hopelessly arrogant, selfish, and therefore fallible. Second, we humans are no match for Mother Nature.