Human beings consider themselves to be the most advanced and superior species and claim to overpower nature and its resources through their intellectual evolution and technological know-how. However, some phenomenon occurs once in a century which takes a real test of this claim and tends to turn the table upside down. COVID-19 pandemic is one such phenomenon, which has created havoc on this planet claiming lakhs of lives and brought the global economy to a standstill.
All the crises, which humans encounter can be categorised into three types. First one is known to known crisis, which occurs in everyone’s life and we know how to tackle it. The second one is the unknown to known crisis. Here we may not be aware of the incoming crisis and its nature, but we are ready to deal with it effectively and to a large extent we may succeed in overcoming it. The third one, like the COVID-19 pandemic, is the unknown to unknown where we can neither anticipate it nor we are equipped to deal with it effectively. The entire global community and individual nations have exhausted all their know-how and technology to combat the COVID-19.
This article tries to understand how the world and the way we live will change after the COVID-19 pandemic is over. Firstly, it tries to throw light on the origins of COVID-19 and the controversy surrounding it along with the repercussions it will have on future geopolitical discourse. Secondly, the article looks into the impact of COVID-19 on the economy, society, health, polity, and lifestyle. It also tries to examine whether we can overcome the pandemic and what lessons the nations can learn in handling future disasters. Finally, the article touches on the idea of whether things will change for good after this pandemic is over and whether we can turn this crisis into an opportunity.
World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the virus associated with COVID-19 to be a novel one and one of the many strains of the coronavirus family. There is unanimous acceptance from the global community that the coronavirus originated from China and then spread to other parts of the world through international passengers acting as virus carriers. However, what is debated is where it was a natural origin in a market of Wuhan city in china or it was an artificial creation in a lab. Some even claim it is a biological weapon aimed at mass destruction of human beings and changing the geopolitical order in favour of one particular country. But what we can definitely say is that some governments and leaders across the world shied away from understanding the impact of COVID-19 during initial stages. Could the damage have been minimised had the virus been declared a pandemic one month earlier? Or could there have been fewer deaths if the country of origin had reported the initial cases of COVID in a transparent and responsible manner? Both these questions need in-depth discussions and answers to ensure we improve the working standards of the governments and global institutions. That said, let us try to analyse the impact of the pandemic on human lives from a multi-dimensional perspective.
Economically, as per the reports from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, the world is sliding into a recession and the resulting economic crisis is seen even worse than the Great Depression of the 1930s. Economies of various nations have contracted with millions losing their jobs. For instance, according to a study done by Centre for Monitoring of Indian Economy (CMIE), the unemployment rate in India in April and May this year was at around 25%, which is a large number given India’s population. The informal nature of Indian economy has exposed the vulnerabilities of the daily wage earners, the retail shopkeepers, street vendors, and agricultural labourers. They are now juggling to fulfil even their basic needs; even the mammoth economic package announced by the government seems to be insufficient in the short term.
How will the economy after COVID-19 be different from what we have over the last few decades? Are things going to turn out to be better in future? These are tough questions and we don’t have immediate answers. One thing that is clear is that the way of doing business will no longer remain the same. The easy movement of people and resources encouraged by globalisation will certainly take a back seat in the near future and the businesses will have to adapt to these changes to mitigate the risk of infectious diseases.
One bitter lesson the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us is the need for an effective social and economic security system for the unorganised sector so that they can deal with such crisis in a better way. COVID-19 has also exposed the weakness of our healthcare system and how ill-equipped we are in providing basic healthcare to our citizens. Even the most advanced nations like the US, UK, France and Italy couldn’t prevent the large scale deaths. This brings us back to the classical Sen-Bhagwati debate on development discourse. The recent global political leadership seemingly had an inclination towards the Bhagwati model of growth led development where the fruits of wealth created by nations would be trickled down to the bottom with limited role of government. The pandemic has, however, again forced us to think on the pressing need for what Amartya Sen argues for a human capability approach to development with a primary focus on improving the health and education of the people. The debate will continue in times to come but this is an opportune moment to discuss, debate and deliberate on what is a more effective roadmap to human development.
As far as the social impact of the pandemic is concerned, one picture which has caught the attention of the global and national media is the plight of migrant workers who were struggling to go back to their home during lockdown. Though the government has started sending them back homes through Shramik special trains, the efforts of the government alone cannot solve such problems. The migrant crisis has brought with it the bitter politics, and criticism of the government for the way it had handled the issue. Though it would be naive to pass judgement now, what is clear is that we as a society have failed to take care of the workers who are the real shoulders of the Indian economy. The silver lining is that the crisis also saw some stories of struggle and the indomitable strength of people. The story of a 13-year-old girl who took with her ailing father on a bicycle on a 1200 km long journey paints two contrasting emotions at the same time – one is the emotional pride of our girls, and the other is a societal shame on why she was forced to take such an arduous journey.
Now, the question is whether we could have handled the crisis in a better manner? This is an unknown to unknown crisis and the discussion of ‘if’ and ‘but’ always remains. However, a critical appraisal of various stakeholders is worth examining. The primary players in tackling the crisis are the global governance systems and individual national governments. While some nations have backed WHO, several including the US president have bitterly criticised it for acting at the behest of China and acting in a non-transparent manner. Recently, when this article was being written, the WHO had miscommunicated about some aspects of asymptomatic carriers – all this shows WHO must have a complete overhaul to deal with the challenges in this millennium.
Countries like South Korea and Japan have earned praise for better handling of the pandemic. In fact, the New Zealand Premier received applause for getting the active COVID-19 cases to zero and is being hailed as a harbinger of women-led development and leadership. India also did well in taking timely decisions to announce the lockdown and ensuring that the spread of COVID-19 was contained in a highly populous country like India. But the economic crisis due to the lockdown has brought the economy to a standstill and it would take quite some time to restore normalcy.
Other stakeholders like media and civil society also played their part in fighting the menace of COVID-19. What was disturbing was the spread of disinformation and fake news in this tough time leading to chaos and crisis. But the real heroes in this crisis time who deserve national salute are we call as ‘corona’ warriors – the doctors, healthcare workers, police, news reporters, and others who have risked their lives in taking care of the people.
We have all learnt hard lessons (and still learning) during this pandemic. The overarching reality is that nature has its own ways and means to restore balance and equilibrium. We must realise that humans are only one among the several species of the natural ecosystem and other species also have their due rights and share over the natural resources. One picture which made every citizen smile is that amidst this ocean of grief were animals and birds coming out in open when the entire world was under lockdown.
While it may take time to have some control over the pandemic or eliminate it, we just have to be patient and mindful of our limitations as human beings. The need of the hour is to remain optimistic even in the darkest hour of this crisis and act in a united manner to combat the disease. We must remember that even if we are in hell, the only solution is to keep walking.
-Nitish Garg (Winner of Third Prize, Covid-19 Article Writing Competition, 25-34 Age Group)
Picture Credits: economist.com