Game changing Lessons from Covid-19

The world is in the throes of reinventing itself. Mauritius needs to be alive to these game changers and aptly adapt them to our own conditions and work ethos

By Mrinal Roy

Has the world learnt some of the crying lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has exposed many of our failings and shortcomings.

The first cardinal lesson is that family matters. Covid-19 has brought to the fore the anguish and distress of not being able to visit parents living alone and having to struggle on their own in the midst of the pandemic. So many deaths and funerals had to be organized without close family members. So many children and grandchildren can only see their parents and grandparents in old people’s homes through glass windows. This has changed mindsets and social behaviour. A survey found that 52% of the American population between ages 18 and 29 were living with their parents, a figure unmatched since the Great Depression. More and more people are moving older family members out of nursing homes and into a loved one’s home. In too many instances, the rat race has distanced so many from kin. Covid-19 will hopefully reverse this deplorable let down.

Path breaking research

Covid-19 has also shown that the scientific community working together can carry out path breaking research to find a vaccine. In the past it took four to 20 years to create conventional vaccines. In the case of the new messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, it took a record-setting 11 months to develop an effective vaccine. This process may have changed forever the way drugs are developed. Vaccines may one day treat heart disease and other ailments. In the near future, mRNA technology could lead to better flu vaccines that could be updated quickly as flu viruses mutate every season.

We therefore need to have an open mind towards all important research developments which could add to the arsenal of measures to overcome the Covid-19 pandemic. For example, the hypothesis that natural immunity offers unreliable protection against Covid-19 is being rapidly debunked by science.

More than 15 studies have demonstrated the power of immunity acquired by those who have been infected by Covid-19. A recent study covering 700,000 persons in Israel found that those who had experienced prior infections were 27 times less likely to get a second symptomatic Covid infection than those who were vaccinated. A study carried out on health-care workers (who are often exposed to the virus) in a June Cleveland Clinic in the US also showed that none of the healthcare workers who had previously tested positive were reinfected. The study authors concluded that “individuals who have had SARS-CoV-2 infection are unlikely to benefit from Covid-19 vaccination.” In May, a Washington University study found that even a mild infection resulted in long-lasting immunity. If these findings are validated by peer review it could free millions of doses of Covid-19 vaccines for use by the multitude denied access to vaccines because of limited and ring fenced supplies.

Game changers

Covid-19 has also taught people to take better care of their health through a better nutrition, adequate sleep, regular exercise and physical activity to maintain a healthy weight. Studies on adults in their 40s to 60s who do not keep fit or exercise and have risk factors such as obesity show that they have a higher risk of having severe Covid.

Covid-19 has also taught people to master and use the immense potential and game changing benefits of digital technology on their lives. The tech boom has opened wide-ranging possibilities. Popular food delivery apps more than doubled their earnings last year. Weddings and memorial services were held via videoconferences. It is expected that even when we resume with live weddings, cameras and live feeds will continue to include remote people who cannot attend. In the financial sector, PayPal reported that its fastest-growing user group were people over 50.

A new model

Covid-19 has also compelled corporates and government services to adapt and re-invent the way they operate. Working-from-home has caused a plethora of jobs not to be location specific. People forced to work from home from the start of the pandemic have realized that they can be just as productive as they were at the office, thanks to videoconferencing, high-speed internet and other technologies. Many companies have already announced plans to shift towards a more work-from-home model of operation on a permanent basis. The spin off from this development is that corporates are downsizing their offices and, if sensible, relocating them, resulting in savings. As a quid pro quo, those working from home are provided with the required tech facilities, equipment and support to set up an efficient and congenial work office environment at home.

As a result of these profound changes, our cities will also be transformed. Crowding, packed public buses and subways represent a health risk. Crowded office towers are no longer on. The office and business district will look different. Instead, they are being replaced by a spacious office in a home located in a congenial environment providing a high quality of life. The city habitat will have to be redesigned accordingly. The standard 9 to 5 work setup and routine is therefore undergoing profound changes.

New impetus

The world is in the throes of reinventing itself. Mauritius therefore needs to be alive to these game changers and aptly adapt them to our own conditions and work ethos with the object of providing a much needed impetus to the development thrust and economic prospects of the country.

* * *

Together we can

The world is at an important crossroads. Humanity is facing two major existential threats: climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic. These crises have exposed so many systemic failings of our model of socio-economic development.

The crying warnings and repeated calls by the world’s top climate scientists for immediate action to drastically cut down greenhouse gases in order to keep global warming within a maximum of 1.5°C to prevent a climate change catastrophe have been to no avail. The main polluting countries hell-bent on pursuing their corporate interests are yet to wake up to the urgency of significantly reducing their carbon emissions by the extent required to safeguard our homeland, planet Earth.

Scientific evidence has also demonstrated that many climate related changes such as the acidification of the ocean, global sea level rise, melting ice and glacier retreat due to unchecked greenhouse gas emissions are already irreversible and will last for centuries to millennia.

Time is running out. The internationally agreed global warming maximum threshold of 1.5°C is perilously close. Will the forthcoming UN Climate Change summit (COP26) to be held on 31 Oct-12 Nov 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland, trigger the last ditch actions and robust measures required by world leaders to stem greenhouse gas emissions to save planet Earth from an impending climate change disaster? The world must necessarily unite to do what it takes to urgently reverse the dire impact of climate change on planet Earth to protect and prevent future generations from facing extremely severe climate related consequences. The world is already experiencing a series of devastating extreme weather events this year.

New divide

At a time when there is an urgent need for unity and solidarity among nations to overcome the Covid-19 pandemic, the wealthy countries have hastened to secure their vaccine requirements to vaccinate and protect their population. They are now busy assuring a booster third dose of vaccine when 98% of Africa’s population is yet to be vaccinated and many African countries are facing a devastating third wave of Covid-19 infection. This begs the question of what is envisaged next. A divided world where developed countries lay claim on an annual booster dose in a context where only 2% of the population in low-income countries have received at least one dose of vaccine.

The world must realize that this situation is untenable. Are we now creating a new divide in the world between those countries and people who are Covid vaccinated and those that are not? Do we seriously think that such double standards are sustainable? Travel bans are already creating friction and provoking sabre rattling about retaliatory measures. Such a divide will hobble socio-economic recovery.

Does this also mean that the world is now trapped in an endless and costly cycle of annual Covid-19 vaccination? Is this a viable way forward?  This dependence on annual booster vaccination for continued protection also limits supplies of vaccines available for use by poor countries. In a pandemic, every country and its people must have access to evolving information on Covid-19 research and an equitable access to vaccines. A pandemic which has brought the world on its knees cannot be an opportunity for profiteering by vaccine producers. They must be altruistic partners providing every support to people and countries across the world to overcome the pandemic.

Widening inequality, war and political strife are increasing the pressure of migrants on the frontiers of the European Union, the United States and other developed countries. Does the world now want the migrant pressure to explode because of Covid-19 insecurity owing to the multitude of countries which do not have adequate and affordable access to vaccines to protect their population?

The upshot is that the world can overcome and win the daunting battles against climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic only if we are united and act as one with a single minded resolve. Not to do so is akin to shooting ourselves in the foot. Together we certainly can.

* Published in print edition on 24 September 2021

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