It’s been more than three months since the first COVID-19 outbreak. Our planet has been locked down like never before. Notwithstanding this disastrous pandemic, COVID-19 has provided us the opportunity to introspect and rediscover our humanity. What will happen after the pandemic recedes? Will we go back to business as usual?
While the final word on COVID-19 has not yet been written, these recent months have been an eye opener in more ways than one. Here are 10 lessons to be learnt from COVID-19:
1. Humans are wired to connect
COVID-19 has affected every country on the planet and is agnostic to nationality, religion, class and gender. With a few exceptions, it has united the whole world to fight a common threat but did it have to be initiated by a virus? Actually, advances in neuroscience confirm that our brains are wired to connect and break barriers and COVID-19 may just be the initiation of a trans-global transformation opportunity.
2. We cannot take Mother Nature for granted
Back in 2005, James Lovelock, eminent earth scientist, had written the book Revenge of Gaia on why the earth is fighting back and how we can save humanity. Now, leading environmentalists including Inger Andersen, Chief of UN’s environment programme, are saying that it is mostly human behaviour behind the transmission of animal diseases to humans and that both global warming and the destruction of our natural habitat have to cease. While this is not conclusive, there is significant evidence that the wildlife trade is linked to the current Coronavirus outbreak.
3. Globalisation is a double edged sword
In 1980 when CNN made its debut it did so with the vision of creating a global village. This is precisely what has happened. Never before have we been so globally integrated and although it undoubtedly has its advantages, its sheer scale and speed has uprooted local communities. In the case of COVID-19, globalisation played centrestage in the spread of the pandemic with every single country reporting positive cases. Now, with just about every remote corner of the world easily accessible, it’s hardly surprising that the virus from Wuhan, China, crossed borders like wildfire. The new normal needs to reflect a considered balance of global and local never mind if it impacts global trade.
4. One country should not be the manufacturing hub for the world
Since the 1990s, pretty much the whole world has looked to China for its manufacturing needs. The Wuhan outbreak has shaken the very foundations of the global supply chain and economies are in a downward spiral. Most risk management functions of global corporations ignore outliers in the supply chain. Corporations are driven by the bottomline but a few also think about the triple bottomline. Now, is the right time to bring the planet and people-oriented goals in sync with profit making.
5. Recession may not be a bad thing
Mindless economic growth and growth for growth’s sake has left our planet bleeding. Since COVID-19 struck, air quality indices have improved dramatically; skies have become bluer and nature is celebrating while humanity is all caged up.
Here is an opportunity for the economists of the world to take a crash course in ecology and rediscover economics the way E F Schumacher presented in his seminal book Small is Beautiful, the study of economics as if people and planet matter. Although, we cannot ignore the disastrous economic repercussions of COVID-19, slower economic growth may be desirable if it helps heal our planet. Now onwards, we must think ‘Planet First’.
Back in the early 1970s, a team of researchers from MIT published The Limits to Growth, a study on the implications of economic growth and how humanity could live within its means and create a society in which future generations could live indefinitely on earth.
6. The separation of public health and environment policy must be done away
Most public health policy discussions debate the access, affordability and sustainability of healthcare. These discussions often extend to diagnostics and therapeutic capabilities to ensure public health. Very few public health policy forums assume a multi-disciplinary approach and draw linkages with environment policy. Says Inger Andersen, the UN’s environment chief “Never before have so many opportunities existed for pathogens to pass from wild and domestic animals to people,” adding that 75% of all emerging infectious diseases come from wildlife”. When one looks at the real causes of COVID-19, it becomes apparent that public health policy makers have overlooked the relationship between environmental health and public health.
7. The world will learn to work remotely
During COVID-19, many workplaces that considered working from home as inconceivable had no choice but to have staff work from home. An article in the Guardian predicts COVID-19 could cause a permanent shift towards homeworking. Many employers will stand to realise the advantages of working remotely. Remote working and reduced travel can in net terms lower the carbon footprint of the planet.
8. Citizen Diplomacy needs to be enhanced
One of the rather unfortunate happenings in the aftermath of the breakout was the war of rhetoric between the leaders of the US and China. On one hand we saw arrogance and racial insensitivity while on the other hand we witnessed behaviour that was so short on accountability, accompanied by opaqueness. Clearly it is in times like these when Governments behave irresponsibly, Citizen Diplomacy or people to people contact can smoothen ruffled feathers. COVID-19 has brought citizens together not just across borders but also within communities.
9. Is being vegan or vegetarian the sensible option?
Wuhan is witness to wet markets which need to be banned outright but Wuhan is not alone, for example, in many parts of the Middle East and Saharan Africa, people relish camel meat. Dr. Andy Weil, noted Integrative Medicine expert writes: “Many meat eaters are simply not aware of the impact of their protein choices on the environment.” According to Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the UN, almost 15 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions is attributed to cattle, pigs and poultry farming, in that order.
10. It pays to be joyful for it only enhances your immunity
For some, the confinement brought about by Covid-19 lockdowns was a source of misery but for others it was a chance to look inwards, contemplate and get to the core of one’s being. Many saw the lockdown as a once in a lifetime opportunity to press the reset button and rediscover ways and means of being joyful. This might sound like old wine in a new bottle but the physiology of love, joy and optimism can only strengthen one’s immunity.