Has Covid-19 brought any benefits?

We should thank Covid-9 for the opportunity to take a fresh turn in our lives and cast a new look at the world around us

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

At a time when on a daily basis it is the bad and sad news about the Covid-19 pandemic that predominates, it might seem cynical to seek anything positive associated with this overwhelming health crisis. Sure enough, there is the daily tally of rising numbers of cases and deaths globally although in some countries the rate of such a rise may be slowing, the controversies about drug treatment, the lack of protective gear and medical equipment faced by practically all countries, the problems relating to the disposal of so many dead people in such a short time, and the consequential social and economic crises that have been precipitated.

‘We can see the Himalayas for the first time in 30 years’ – from India to Venice, the beautiful side effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Photo – www.thetimes.co.uk

But there are always two sides to any situation, and there are people who, taking a longer term view from the perspective of history, give us reason to hope and perhaps try to boost our morale. Writing in The Conversation of May 18, 2020 – ‘Four ways economic crises can change things for the better’ – Alexander Tziamalis and Konstantinos Lagos of Sheffield Hallam University, UK, sound an optimistic note: ‘Despite the setbacks from the great depression of the 1930s, the recession that followed the second world war, the oil shocks of the 1970s and the 2007-09 financial crisis, real GDP per capita rose exponentially in the 20th century and 21st century. If there is one lesson from history, it is that the economy will pick up again. Unemployment will be reduced, salaries will increase, the stock market will rise to new unprecedented highs and our factories will be producing more goods than ever before.’

They conclude in an equally confident tone: ‘…let’s think of the opportunities for positive change this pandemic has highlighted. Stronger public health, reduced unnecessary commuting, less pollution and international pharmaceutical cooperation can improve our world. So can increasing the pay, as well as recognition, for key workers. The UK could also lead globally to crack down on tax havens and start taxing big corporations properly. Everyone can do their bit to turn this pandemic into an opportunity for good – let’s all fight and vote for it.’

Certainly, our Public Health Division has once again shown that it can rise to the challenge and I will not be surprised if in course of time we are counted among the countries that most successfully managed the Covid-19 crisis. We must not, however, rest on our laurels, and immediately post the crisis situation we must embark on consolidating our Public Health System to face any future pandemics (that are sure to come) through policy and structural changes that are required, as I have suggested in my article in this paper of April 17, 2020 ‘Wake-up call post Covid-19: Need for a Robust Public Health System’, based on my experience in the health system.

Although there is ongoing talk about the world changing forever towards a ‘new normal’, the question mark in my mind is whether the undoubted short-term benefits that we have all witnessed – and about which, for example regarding nature, many have waxed lyrical – will be mainstreamed into the future or will soon cease after the lockdown is lifted.

After the waters in River Yamuna recently reaching a remarkable level of purity, the Ganga river has now become so clean that the water is fit for drinking. Photo – travelandleisureindia.in

Let’s consider ‘reduced unnecessary commuting, less pollution’ which I think go together. Several countries reported the return of blue skies and blue waters in their rivers; probably in due course there will be publications showing a reduced incidence of asthmatic attacks and acute chest problems during the crisis in places such as Delhi where pollution is endemic. We do not have an issue of air pollution here – but we definitely have traffic pollution if I may use this expression: road congestion and delays, and the related noise pollution from cars emitting unnecessarily high decibels.

On Tuesday last I was driving back from Pailles to Curepipe at about 15.45 pm. I estimated that there was about 25-30% more traffic than during the total lockdown, and I crossed the Reduit roundabout without having to wait, and so too the St Jean one on to Quatre Bornes for a shopping stop. It was such a pleasant drive, and given the circumstances, I couldn’t help asking myself what would happen as from June 1st on the lockdown being completely lifted? Definitely the traffic volume will increase, and at a wild guess perhaps up to 50-60% of the pre-lockdown level would still be great in terms of commute time and comfort. So will this benefit last beyond past the lockdown, or will it revert not to the expected ‘new normal’ but to the bottlenecks, noise and stress of the pre-pandemic period?

Perhaps we all ought to start seriously thinking about how to perpetuate this undoubted positive fallout of the pandemic. It will involve resets in the workplace in different sectors both public and private, new work patterns and schedules, shorter weeks if possible (New Zealand has settled for a 4-day week). It may also mean less outings and more home deliveries, perhaps creating another entrepreneurial niche.

At the global level, despite some political bickerings both within and in between countries, nevertheless there has been a realization that more and not less cooperation is required to tackle this enemy which knows no boundaries. At the same time, countries have discovered that they could ramp up their capacities to produce protective medical gear such as surgical masks and gowns/aprons, to design and build low cost ventilators by newly set up teams, create indigenous test kits that were in short supply everywhere.

In other words, there has been a move towards self-reliance and a reduction of dependency on single-source supply, a trend which is likely to endure and help countries to be better prepared to deal with future health and associated crises. By the same token, sewing machines acquired a new life and regained their value as housewives got on to making home-made masks for personal use.

In a similar vein, there has been an enhanced awareness about the precariousness and cost of food supplies. In the UK, with online help from the Royal Horticultural Society, many households took to growing and enjoying their own vegetables, and even with the limited experience gained, they are keen on continuing post the crisis. This is something within the reach of many households too locally, and is a clear gain that could be emulated if there is the will.

On a personal level, there has been introspection, more sharing of family time together, innovative culinary experiments, going back to books as the online overload of fake and despairing news became unbearable, greater appreciation of the bounties of nature. These, we would concur, are not inconsiderable gains.

Perhaps we should look forward to consolidate them, and thank Covid-9 for the opportunity to take a fresh turn in our lives and cast a new look at the world around us.

* Published in print edition on 22 May 2020

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