By Alexander Nassar
In the past year, the war humanity has waged against COVID-19 is a testament to emerging diseases’ evolutionary progress. COVID-19 is not the end but rather only the conclusion of one battle in our campaign for survival. The History channel estimates that since records began, 17 pandemics have ravaged our civilizations and hampered the course of human rule on nature. More than a third of those pandemics took place after the Russian plague in the eighteenth century. According to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, and more generally according to public opinion, it is likely that this increase in the frequency of pandemics is due to the human exploitation of nature. It is therefore likely that another pandemic, or an epidemic at least, will emerge in the near future unless drastic changes are made to the ways in which humans coexist with the natural world.
But when all is said and done, can you really imagine yourself going back to normal and passively awaiting the next episode? That is – not disinfecting your phone at the end of the day, not wearing a mask on the subway, not thinking twice before touching all sorts of surfaces in public spaces… During this most recent pandemic, the amount of information about the virus, its symptoms, treatments and prevention, has been overwhelming, with every news source presenting it in a way adapted to its target audience. This diversity of sources and interpretations has meant that a multitude of understandings—and misunderstandings—about the virus now exist and intermix in daily conversations and behaviors of people around the world. It has therefore become a part of our permanent, conscious thoughts, an intrinsic part of the world we live in day after day. Washing one’s hands for less than 20 seconds just doesn’t feel like it’s enough anymore. The knowledge that we have gained as a result of this pandemic will inevitably leave an impact on how we live our lives from now on, for a long while at least.
A substantial problem lies beneath the implied long-term consequences of the knowledge gained about COVID-19 and about viruses more generally. Mainly, the issue is that the interventions to protect against a virus, although currently necessary, are not sustainable if carried out indefinitely without being changed and adapted, and especially not at this point in time when population growth is peaking. This gives rise to the question of how to balance more need with less resources. You must wash your hands for 20 seconds, but this uses a lot of water unless automatic faucets are used, and these are rarely used domestically. Disposable mask waste is piling up, and this will continue unless more people choose to use the same couple of reusable masks. However, these are less effective against more contagious strains of the virus. Recent controversy on stringent European airport rules regarding airline timeslots has meant that largely empty planes are having to fly for the sole purpose of securing important time slots at major airports. Policy changes need to be made to adapt to the evolving sanitary situation, but then again, policy changes of this magnitude usually take time to compose and implement, and may take longer than the next shift in the pandemic’s situation.
These are only a few examples of the issues that exist now, almost two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, and are food for thought. What social and political aspects does the response to the pandemic hold? What lessons have you learned from this pandemic? In the next one, what could be done to fare better, especially at the early stages? How much power should the media hold in spreading scientific information to the general public, and should this translation be better monitored?
It has been a life-changing, global, and once-in-a-generation phenomenon and should be reflected upon as such.