The Coronavirus will be devastating, but it will help the world move forward
Every big crisis exposes the best and the worst in human behaviour. Only then do we see real change, says Leila Hawkins
The rapid spread of COVID-19 throughout the world revealed how unsustainable life has become. It took very few days for it to cause billions to be wiped from global financial markets, a fresh refugee crisis on the Turkey-Greece border, and a war over oil erupting between Russia and Saudi Arabia. The infrastructure of the world’s economy has never looked so fragile.
Flights have pretty much stopped, right at the point when the effects of climate change reached a critical level, and ironically, during peak populism (Nigel Farage has been in an especially buoyant mood recently). Meanwhile disruption to supply chains means we’ll have to shake off our reliance on owning countless mass-produced items. We’ll have to learn to live with less, respect human labour and appreciate the planet.
Every big crisis exposes the worst in human behaviour – we’re currently seeing selfish panic-buying driven by fear and decades of consumerism. But we’re also seeing the power of community at its finest, the hyper local Facebook groups that are multiplying by the hour, set up to coordinate help for the most vulnerable; the leaflets being dropped through letterboxes with offers of help to collect food and medicines; the restaurants transforming into makeshift kitchens and food banks for people in need. Opportunities to do good are infinite.
But let’s not get carried away with dreams of Shangri-la just yet. COVID-19 will tear through the healthcare systems and communities that have been underfunded over the years. Hundreds of thousands have already lost their jobs and we’re only at the start of the hurricane. We’ve been told a large number of people will die, too big a number for any politician to be specific about. The fall-out from this will lead to far-reaching changes to political structures – those that favour wealth over welfare.
This is not a catastrophe that can be blamed on an opposition or a differing political ideology (despite what Donald Trump says), but how world leaders react to it now will shape the next world order. Boris Johnson’s warning that many people will die will not soften the feelings of relatives and friends of the deceased, who won’t forgive a government that sits idly by looking after business instead of the population. Banks were bailed out so we could emerge from the last recession; to survive this one the government will have to bail out its people, and enshrine the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) services away from grabbing hands.
Americans will not forget their president initially denied the scale of the problem, depriving millions of the right to be test, and then attempting to buy the exclusive rights to the vaccine that could save countless lives. The Iranian regime is sure to topple after leaders lied about the scale of the outbreak to ensure voters turned up on election day, causing it to quickly get out of control. And once the debrief begins in China, their government too will be condemned for silencing the whistleblowers that first raised the alarm.
By its nature COVID-19 does not discriminate by status – heads of state and millionaires are falling ill with as much likelihood as the postman or the cab driver, but inequality kills, and we’ll soon see the stark reality of allowing billionaires to rule if only the rich get tested and subsequently treated because there is no availability for the rest of us. This will be the main catalyst for change, just like the NHS was born from the ashes of World War II. COVID-19 might raze us to the ground, but it may be the only way for our children to have a better future.