While I am writing this piece, a total of 48,05,210 (as of May 18, 2020) people have been infected by the novel coronavirus worldwide with 3,16,732 succumbing to the disease. In India, the number of infections has surpassed 86,000 with 2752 officially recorded deaths. Sadly enough, this data is very likely inaccurate, even an underestimate, given the fact that the number of tests being conducted is abysmally low and we have no way of tracing hidden infections at the moment.
So, the bottom line is: humanity is facing a disaster of unprecedented scale. Many are calling it the worst global tragedy since the world wars. In New York, the current ‘ground zero’ of the pandemic, some residents are referring to the situation as ‘the biblical hell’. No one seems to know when the virus will subside and things will get back to normal (not so normal in any case).
Nonetheless, as the world wars taught humanity to have greater faith in peace and dialogue than on machine guns and grenades, this pandemic crisis is also not without an important lesson. We must pay heed to this message if we are to save the human race for long.
To me, the best metaphor to understand this humanitarian existential crisis is the unexpected toll on America. The world’s greatest capitalist power failed to anticipate the imminent threat, largely because the leader of this exceptional democracy chose not to give credence to the facts. This is exactly what has happened to all of us collectively. In our blind pursuit of economic and developmental illusions, we have chosen to ignore the very basic fact of the fragility of human existence. Somehow, we have foolishly convinced ourselves that we are invincible.
The Covid-19 pandemic is a warning that we are hanging on a delicate thread. It is our relationship with each other and with nature that holds us together as a species. If we fail to realize that, then this crisis will just be the beginning of an eventual doom that awaits us, sooner than we can think of. This is no alarmist or pessimistic rant, it’s fact – the one thing we have so conveniently set aside in our quest to become the next superpower.
As nations and as individuals, we have to accept the reality that this new virus is not going anywhere soon. Flattening the curve is just one minor aspect of our fight against Covid-19. Eventually, we will have to learn to live with the virus and its continuing threat. The solution, I think, is not ‘herd immunity’ or even a vaccine for that matter. New viruses will continue to emerge shortly with far-reaching impacts on human health, economy, and society. The best bet we have in our struggle against new diseases and epidemics is to be more cautious and prepared for what could be unfathomable.
Human civilization is vulnerable. It’s only how we deal with nature and with wildlife that will decide how well we can adapt to the changing forces in nature. Unfortunately, it seems we haven’t learned the lesson as yet. News has emerged that the notorious wet markets in Wuhan – the breeding ground for such novel infections – are once again open for business. Deforestation and degradation of natural habitats are not stopping anywhere, and global leaders will very likely return to their denial of climate change once the current crisis is over.
So, in the end, it is up to us, the citizens, to speak out more and stand up for the sake of humanity’s survival. Voices like that of Greta Thunberg will make even more sense in a post-COVID world. If we want to keep living with hope and optimism about man’s destiny on this planet, we must understand how important it is for us to get back to the basics. Health, food, and the environment are issues that should be at the forefront of our regional and global policies.
Education, as always, will remain the best weapon against misinformation and ignorance. Lastly, as citizens of democracies, we must be prepared to make the right choices so that the leaders we bring to power are those who have the necessary foresight to prevent an impending crisis and who value science more than their prejudiced opinions.
To conclude on a bright note, I recall what Ruskin Bond once said, “When all the wars are done, a butterfly will still be beautiful.”
It’s time we work together to cherish that beauty that is nature and to make sure that people like us are left to appreciate it in the future.