We are in the early stages of what is shaping up to be a once-in-a-lifetime crisis. Estimates still vary significantly, but the most alarming ones say that the Coronavirus could infect up to 20-30 percent of the world population over the next twelve months. This would obviously have dire consequences in terms of loss of life and economic and social distress. Whether the extent of the projections materialize or not, a few lessons can already be drawn from the situation:
- History is now. We tend to think that great wars, pandemics, global natural disasters and other Earth-shattering events happened only in the past and might only reoccur in the distant future. This leads us to take for granted warning signs and make bad decisions — the belated and inefficient response to this Coronavirus spread being one of them. Other examples of disasters waiting to happen include the effects of climate change and the threat of nuclear war. On the former, specialists have been losing their voices for decades, screaming for attention. On the latter, the Doomsday Clock has never been so close to midnight. Hopefully, this health crisis will open our eyes and make us understand we are part of the world we live in and our actions do matter, today.
- We are all the same. We are all on the same boat: black, white, brown, men, women, gay, Christian, Muslim, whatever you are. We live and we perish the same. Any sentiment of racial, cultural or gender superiority should seem frivolous at this point. If this crisis does not humble us and teach us to put things in perspective, nothing will. Like soldiers that went through war together and are ever bonded by overcoming a common fear, hopefully this crisis will help us learn how to leave differences aside and focus on what unite us.
- Institutions are not as solid as we think. We tend to trust our institutions. We rely on the ability of our governments, hospitals, and the general infrastructure to keep us safe and hold order. But the reality is that we are much more vulnerable and powerless than we would like to believe. If that many people do indeed get sick, we will not have enough hospital beds, ventilators and doctors to deal with it, and no contingency plan seems to stand on its feet. Luckily, the Coronavirus is not a particularly lethal one, with mortality rate estimates from various sources ranging anywhere between 0.1 and 5 percent. The mortality rate for the Ebola virus, for example, was about 40 percent, but in that case, we lucked out on the contagiousness side, as it was easier to contain its spread. But one day we might get the worst of both worlds and we better be ready to deal with something like that. Or a major terrorist attack. Or the effects of climate change. Hopefully this crisis will urge us to prepare better for these situations, in time.
- The cost of having lousy leaders is much higher than we think. In some countries, we are paying the price for having elected lousy leaders, who are clearly unfit to rule a nation let alone to manage a crisis of this proportion. When one casts a “protest vote”, he/she normally does not foresee a situation such as the one we are living in. In the face of a major crisis, serious leadership and competent teams matter more than ever and can be the difference between the life and death of thousands or even millions. Hopefully, moving forward, people will add another variable to their decision-making process when it comes to electing representatives to public office.
- Yes, we need the State. Regardless of political views, it is clear that only the State can handle (or lead) certain services and situations. Health, education, social safety nets, and part of infrastructure (including of course public-private partnerships) are some of the obvious areas. Weakening the State by cutting the budget of vital branches that oversee some of these areas can have calamitous consequences. Hopefully, after this trauma, even the most fanatical free-market evangelists will come to recognize that we need to strive for a balance between the public and private initiatives.
- Science demands respect. Science is imperfect, but it is the best tool we have to live in a livable world. It is what will ultimately allow us to combat diseases, mitigate climate change, and create ever-evolving societies. After what we are experiencing, there should be no more room for denying scientific consensus, minimizing warning signs, or challenging facts. The stakes are too high. Hopefully this experience will push Earth-flatters, climate-change deniers and the like to the very peripheries of the political debate, cleaning the noise around what matters, and increasing the focus on what needs to get done.
I ended each of the paragraphs above with a “hopefully” statement. We have tough months ahead of us, but I am confident that the realization of these lessons will make us better and stronger.
What have I missed? Feel free to chime in below by leaving a comment.