Shortly before the pandemic hit, there had been a wave of protests against inequality in Chile, that seemed to go on and on, growing all the time and increasingly disrupting everyday life. At one point, in the capital Santiago, a message was projected onto the side of a building which read: “We won’t go back to normal, because normal was the problem”.
The slogan became the symbol of the protests, and was picked up around the world. They couldn’t have known that a pandemic was already brewing which would stop ‘normal’ everywhere. Now, the slogan takes on added meaning: ‘We won’t go back to normal, because normal was the problem and now it is disaster.’
I say all this because there is good reason to think that we are all under-estimating the extent to which Covid-19 is not going to adapt to our old world. We need to think much bigger about over-turning all of our norms to deal with this.
In Spain, the country with one of the highest per capita deaths from Covid-19 in the world, a study yesterday found just 5 per cent of the population has developed anti-bodies. Even the worst affected region, Madrid, has less than 15 per cent anti-bodies. 27,100 dead and just 5 per cent anti-bodies.
Yet the pressure to get back to normal is relentless. The aviation industry is demanding full flights into the country as planes that aren’t full to bursting are “not profitable”, while hoteliers demand arrivals do not have to quarantine for 14 days on arrival because they need the tourists in the hotels now. Spain’s economy, heavily reliant on tourism, is on its knees and getting little serious support from European institutions. The Madrid Public Health Director resigned last week because she thinks the regional government are allowing short-term economic concerns to drive decision-making.
In Germany, one of the countries that has dealt with Covid-19 better, the ‘R’ rate of transmission is back above 1 after beginning to open up, suggesting a second-wave of the pandemic is on its way in Europe’s largest economy.
Data from UK cities, including Glasgow and Edinburgh, has found that activity began to pick up again in the last week of April, even before our Prime Minister began urging people back to work. It’s difficult to see how society will not get more restless, and less trusting of authority, in a second outbreak.
Then there is the rest of the world. While the West has been pre-occupied with itself, the virus has been growing monstrously elsewhere. Latin America is now a major centre of Covid-19, with Brazilian cases still not plateauing. Outbreaks in Russia, India, Turkey and Mexico are now in the same sort of territory as European nations. Even South Korea and China, which managed to largely crush the virus, have seen upticks in cases over the past week as attempts to get back to ‘normal’ grow.
WHO executive director Mick Ryan warned yesterday that they now fear the world is about to enter a “vicious cycle” of “public health disaster followed by economic disaster followed by public health disaster followed by economic disaster” because governments are not prepared to do everything to establish the huge public health infrastructure needed internationally to control this thing now, and instead are strongly influenced by the old indicator of performance – GDP. South-Korean style test, trace, isolate is hardly in place anywhere.
“”If that virus transmission accelerates and you don’t have the systems to detect it, it will be days or weeks before you know something has gone wrong,” Ryan explained.
Two months in, we are stumbling into our new pandemic world with our brain still stuck in the old one, as the old vested interests get in the way of the monumental transformations needed to deal with this rationally. Meanwhile, the inequalities which had beset the world before The Coronavirus only grow more intense, as the billionaire class sees its wealth swell while the ILO warns 3.3 billion worldwide are at risk of unemployment.
The philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre was asked near the end of his life if he had any regrets: “I wasn’t radical enough,” he answered. I wonder if many of us will have the same thought by the time Covid-19 has finished reaping its whirlwind.
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