COVID-19 Upon Reflection
The virulent spread of the vindictive virus
Priorities - Condolences.
First things first, sincere condolences to us all, especially those who have lost someone during this pandemic (or something). This story is about the social impact of the crisis, and in some way we have all lost something over the last six months, temporarily at least. But yes, there's hope. Of course there's hope. There's always hope. More on that later.
On New Year’s Eve 200 days ago, over the course of twenty-four hours as the earth spun once on its own axis, almost eight billion humans around the world at some point felt some degree of optimism for the future. Some hoped that 2020 would finally be their year (especially fans of Liverpool FC).
Some of them had worked extremely hard as the year wound down, giving it one big final push to achieve their goals, and this was their chance to relax and let their hair down. Others had enjoyed being their usual lazy boring selves, and were pleased at the excuse to have some more fun in a social environment. Still others rejected the more outgoing approach in favor of a quiet night in, exploring the riches of human creativity of the internet, or just taking time out to appreciate the lives that made their own such a pleasure to live. They all had their own struggles, with some needs being way more immediate and urgent than others.
Whatever their state of mind, for the vast majority of people, the fast approaching next day would hold a bit more symbolic promise than almost any other day. The celebration of the new year is common to every tradition and culture, from Thai Songkran to Persian Nowruz, to the We Tripantu Celebration of the Mapuche in Chile.
While the most cynical may say that the whole concept of days, years, or decades is arbitrary, and celebrating NYE is silly, this is clearly ridiculous, and NYE remains a well-loved holiday widely celebrated the world over.
But why? Why is NYE so popular among people, and why do so many celebrate it with so much passion and enthusiasm?
Yes, NYE may not be the first day that you think of among your top five days of the year. We take it for granted somewhat, and for many people its way low down the list, below your birthday, and your families and pets birthdays, Valentine's, St. Patrick's, Pancake Tuesday and even the Superbowl weekend. But the special thing about NYE is its uniting factor, its commonality to everyone's list. Everyone gets a bit excited around the New Year, and we all look forward to it eagerly and often.
As humanity has continued to progress, it is quite frankly incredible that the vast majority of people alive today at least recognize the validity, if not the primacy, of the modernized Gregorian calendar, (itself a descendant of Julius Caeser the Roman Geezer's innovation over 2000 years ago, from before the Current Era. More on him later, in an upcoming article, which is part of my upcoming book).
Marking the passing of time is humanity's golden ticket to progress and improvement. Time is how human societies generate order and complexity out of the chaotic, entropy driven universe. We need this system in order to make sense of the world around us, to better understand the more long-term effects of change, and boy is there a lot of change in the world. There always has been, in general, but this article is specifically about the change that has taken place since NYE in 2020.
So yes, the people were excited, even if they didn't actually know all the history and logical reasoning about why they were excited. But excited they were, for the new year signified the dawn of not just a new day, but a new year, and a new decade too. Almost all of them had plans, dreams and goals for the coming year, as the start of a new decade of human history and progress. But first, a night to enjoy with their near and dear, the promise of adventure, and new memories to create.
Among the world's great metropolises, millions finished what they were doing and gathered with the people that they were closest to. As the sun set on the last day of the year, the most adventurous among the middle class happily headed out to celebrate with their coworkers, friends, and families.
Many party-goers planned to stay out much later than they usually would, amidst the carnival atmosphere, dancing and laughing into the wee hours of the morning. The metro system had also promised to extend its operating hours to cater to their needs and get them home safe, and people crowded the platforms and streets, chattering away to one another in excited anticipation, and constantly checking with their friends to confirm locations and coordinate their arrival and meeting points. They packed themselves tightly into the underground trains, and as the long metal tubes pulled into each station in each city, giddy young people streamed out to join their fellow citizens in the hearts of their cities, all angling for the best views of the upcoming firework displays.
People crowded together as the clock continued to tick 2019 away, partying into the wee hours of the night. With barely seconds to go, they all cheerfully linked arms and belted out the last “Three, Two, One” before the crowd exploded into a cacophony of noise and cheers. The ecstatic and joyful people frenetically hugged and kissed one another, laughing and crying, holding hands, slapping backs, jumping for joy. There was plenty of chatter, as they talked, shouted, and whispered to the people they loved.
Eventually, late into the night, the exhausted people slowly returned to their individual homes to rest for the night as the vibrant bustling cities finally quietened and wound down. The most altruistic among them, in some places, cleaned up some of the mess on their way home, an unfortunate byproduct of the night of extravagant celebration. A reflection of the human spirit that would so brilliantly come to shine within the coming months. Silence filled the streets before dawn, and the rest of the day was a bit quieter than usual as people stayed in and slept it off. It was a public holiday after all. Happy days!
For most of history, the majority of people who ever lived typically worked a pretty 'normal' 9-5 shift, limited by the availability of daylight too see what they were doing. As we slowly leveled-up our capabilities but in the early days of 2020, this was already becoming less and less common as time and tech marched on. People began to work earlier before dawn and well past sunset humanity slowly tightened its grasp on our control over light sources. Today many cities operate a truly 24-hour economy, with people working at any given moment, somewhere, doing something to provide someone with some service. While some work, others rest, maximizing productivity and ensuring that there is always someone around to run a business at any hour. A truly interconnected, vibrant, buzzing global village, as humanity enjoys the gold standard of comfort, entertainment, and leisure in 2020.
In most places, cleaning services are logically the first things to operate, early in the morning before most people have begun their days. They play a vital role in restoring order to the cityscape, returning it to its intended state, following yesterday’s misadventures of the unfortunate, and in preparation for the hustle and bustle of today’s economic activity. They are unseen and unheard by most, who wake up to cleaner streets and never really question how they got that way, too busy trying to fulfill their own role in the ever more complex societal web that humanity has woven for itself.
The morning of January first 2020 was no different, and the great urban maintenance machine ground into action while the majority of people rested. A pretty normal start to the day, launching the world into a new decade that would be defined by extremely unpredictable and volatile events, from its very start. People did what people do, they rested, worked, took care of their families, played games, enjoyed music, and read what others had written. Mostly happy, mostly content. So many working hard, or planning to do so, excited for the possibilities of what the new year would bring
For many of us, it would be the last memory of meeting certain people we cared about. Yet little did we know it, as we all woke up, one by one around the world, wishing each other a happy new year throughout the day. We were virtually all unfortunately unaware of the brewing disaster that would change our lives as they knew them. A great reset was about to take place, and we would all find out about it somehow, sooner or later.
Halfway through 2020 and barely anyone could have predicted such an incredible, tragic, and unbelievable first half of the year. We have all, unfortunately, and against our will, been forced onto a wild roller-coaster ride of emotions and paranoia, that no sane person would ever choose to go through. Everything has changed, and the streets that heaved with people on NYE are empty, totally devoid of life as people shelter in place during the latest wave of the COVID19 pandemic. No crowds of people to be seen on normally packed train platforms and office buildings. The major entertainment venues remain shuttered, and businesses and people have entered an unusual state of pseudo-hibernation as the crisis continues. Tourism is dead in the water practically everywhere, flights have been suspended for months, and millions stare into the abyss of the destruction of their livelihoods.
This blog will humbly offer an early nomination for the word of the year award here; “unprecedented”. This word has been used so many times this year, by all kinds of people, to describe a variety of events as they unfolded across 2020. It is perhaps the only word that truly captures the essence of what it meant to be alive this year, and particularly in January, which was truly bizarre indeed. Unprecedented bushfires in Australia. Unprecedented earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, and avalanches all over Asia. The death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, confirmation of Brexit, and even unprecedented locust outbreaks across the entire Horn of Africa region. It seemed like every morning was some sort of horrific extreme news event, and indeed there was, with millions of people being affected in some way.
But mostly this word has been used specifically in relation to the still ongoing COVID19 pandemic, and while all the other stuff bubbled away in the background as January progressed, the disease continued to silently spread rapidly through population centers. The virus had begun to spread rapidly, and indeed was recently confirmed to have reached Italy before 2020 had even begun. By the time the famous Wuhan whistleblower had wet his lips, it was already too late. But the following suppression of the information about the new disease gave the virus even more of a head start. The lack of awareness was deadly, and indeed the rest is history.
The leadership of the world reacted in a variety of different ways
- · A few leaders tried to ignore it, and actively dismissed it as a threat, with predictably awful results, such as Britain’s Boris, Brazil’s Bolsonaro, and America’s Stump. results of this approach are sadly all too real. These countries are ranked in the top three worldwide.
- · Putin’s Russia is also suffering a late surge.
- · China and South East Asia implemented the most aggressive and robust responses, and places like Thailand even closed beaches and banned alcohol sales to restrict social interaction.
- · Most of the “actual” free world listened to the science and adopted the successful lockdown measures observed in the East. Examples as the majority of European countries, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, the Baltics, as well as the Nordics, with the exception of Sweden, which suffered a greater death toll than its neighbors.
- · The sluggish, disunited, and rudderless responses in places like Italy, Turkey, and Spain.
- · Other tried to pray the virus away, like Tanzania’s Magufuli, the Vatican’s Papa Frankie and Burundi’s Nkurunzinza, who recently died of a ‘heart attack’.
However, on the ground among the actual population, the scale of well-intentioned efforts to find ways to assist was also unprecedented. People baked protective face shields in pizza ovens in New York, and fashioned face masks from all kinds of items. So many millions of scientists and medical professionals almost immediately poured their efforts into understanding more about the virus and the search for the cure. The genome of the virus was sequences pretty rapidly, twice, and independently in China and Australia, a feat of science that was understood to be impossible when this author was born. Progress continues to be made, and I hope a definitive cure has been found by the time you read this.
We have all looked on in wariness and at times anger, as grim stories of ICU battles and supply shortages flooded our screens, and administrations made errors out of pressure, ill-preparedness, and at the worst of times, gross incompetence. So many of us have had the depressing feeling of having some good days, and some not so good days here and there. We have all had to learn to deal with it in our own ways. We have all managed a grim chuckle at the irony of the exact same thing happening exactly a hundred, years ago, and tried to safeguard ourselves and our loved ones as best as we could. We tried our best, and did as much as we could, and hoped that it would be enough. What if it wasn’t? Well. I guess that’s the way of the world, isn’t it? Such is the nature of life’. C’est la vie. Déjà vu. Etc.
Regardless of our physical condition, the proliferation of the virus across the globe has resulted in one fundamental, common loss to us all; the (often limited) physical liberty to roam, to wander, and to travel freely within our cities, or across the globe. The vast majority of us across the globe have, to our surprise, been asked to stay at home for some duration over the last six months.
- · Most of us have complied, understanding the aim of helping to flatten the infection curve, to ensure that our health systems are not constantly overwhelmed with new cases.
- · Others took their guns to their local Capitol building and protested violently against the shutdowns, and ended up infecting themselves with coronavirus, in many cases inadvertently making headlines for all the wrong reasons
In many cases, governments have stepped in to try to cushion the economy’s fall, pumping billions into job-retention and stimulus programs. For the luckiest few employees out there, this resulted in working from home, sometimes doing very little, and still getting paid in full. Fantastic work if you can get it.
All this and much more is being done in a desperate and hopefully save local economies, and hopefully the global one too, from breaking more than its nose as it falls face-first into the brutal concrete of the pandemic’s effects.
However, the vast majority have not been quite so fortunate. We all know what’s on the other side of the coin. There have been millions of job losses, an enormous economic recession, negative oil prices, thousands of business closures, and statistically sobering numbers of deaths above average ever since. Some people have lost everything during the crisis, in some cases with tragic outcomes.
One of the most tragic examples of unfortunate circumstances affecting millions came in India. All public transport and business activity was immediately banned outright, forcing millions of newly unemployed casual laborers to attempt to walk hundreds of kilometres to try and reach their home villages, with significant numbers of deaths along the way.
The resulting social isolation has produced a myriad of extremely interesting effects, with a number of lessons that can be learned with enough analysis. But my key takeaway from the whole crisis is this: We humans are a weird bunch, we can be both extremely fickle on some days, and extremely reliable on others! So many of us have gone through various different moods and stages throughout this lock-down, and the resulting deluge of free time has driven millions of people into a very different kind of head-space altogether.
We would all gladly accept that it was, at first, great to get a significant amount of downtime. Yet almost all of us would happily admit to a lack of consistency at various points of the lock-downs, to losing our way somewhat during this very difficult time. Things changed, and we had nowhere to go, for everything else was closed too, with restaurants, pubs and cinemas no longer allowed to host patrons. We hungered for our favorite activities and stomping grounds, thirsted for a drop to drink with our friends.
So many of us have taken the opportunity gladly, and with both hands, trying to learn new skills, doing something a bit different, and creating beautiful things with the artistic wizardry of the human mind. Most of us have successfully walked through the worst of the most isolating, yet connecting, storm of our lives. We have come to the other side, to tell the tale, and begin the long, painful process of restarting and rebuilding life as we knew it. The recovery will certainly be interesting to observe.
We have all experienced collective and individual worries and doubts along the way, as we monitored the effects of the virus, and considered the longer term effects of the crisis. Some of us have experienced the much harsher, more permanent flavor of separation, with their lives cruelly snatched by the Reaper’s rampage. We have all been forced into at least a minute of introspection here and there, with a huge number of people reassessing many parts of our individual perceptions.
Yes, many of us have suffered significantly, sometimes within the sanctuaries of our own minds, some more so than others, yet all in our own way deprived of our familiar daily environments, and the interactions with our colleagues and friends. With virtually all the very ‘in-person’, close distance social events being moved into virtual spaces, our social instincts and needs have barely been satisfied over the recent few months. We all harbor a growing feeling of social starvation, that eats away at our primal instincts for belonging and communication. We miss the old familiar faces.
But one thing unites us all, our yearning for it to all be over. To have a cure, and to be able to put this episode of insanity behind us and move on with our lives. Some of us have not fared so well during this period, yet the generosity and support of the societies around them has come through in a big way, and overall, the stories that come out of this unprecedented cataclysmic alteration to our lifestyles have been generally positive. In the absence of sporting events, new heroes have emerged, in the form of our essential workers, who have in so many instances put their lives at risk to help provide for and save the lives of the rest of us.
This author also hopes that our leaders have realized what’s truly important, and some of us may have even been able to learn how to look past the shiny exterior that we are presented with, and investigate the substance that lies below the surface. Still others have found new passions to follow, hobbies to pursue, and small independent businesses to build as the recovery begins to take shape. Good luck to us all, and best wishes for finding your niche in this familiar, yet fairly strange new reality, whatever and wherever that may be. Things are definitely going to be different, and as Darwin said, it is not the smartest, biggest or strongest that survive, but the ones who are most resilient to change.
So that’s the end of this article. To conclude simply, we all learned something, somehow, during this pandemic. Humanity responds to adversity pretty well. Youtube, Netflix, Zoom, and food delivery services made a killing. We need to re-evaluate our priorities, and pay essential workers, meaning those in healthcare, food, and many other public services, what they deserve.
As we restart the machine, let’s build a fairer tomorrow that works for more of us today, so that when something like this happens tomorrow, fewer people suffer much less, and the effects are not as severe as they have been this time.
I’ll leave it there for now.
Thanks for reading and best wishes to you and yours, wherever you may be.
The future - What now?
And so we now emerge into this brave, new, post-COVID19 reality. Cautiously creeping out into the city, reclaiming the streets and buildings as our own once more. A diverse host of emotionally emaciated, zombified, hypochondriac, virophobes, in desperate need of a hug and a smile, but faced with a sea of facemasks in the harsh reality of the new normal. On we go, to restart the machine and provide for ourselves and everyone else as economies begin to open up and the world wearily awakens