A new chapter in history is about to begin as the world fights the coronavirus pandemic, as declared by the World Health Organisation (WHO). In this context, let’s look at how the pandemic might affect our world.
COVID-19, also known as SARS-Cove-2 (SARS-CoV-2), has mutated itself into a pandemic that threatens our lives. The virus, which originated in China, is spreading around rapidly across the world, killing millions of people.
For human beings, COVID-19 and SARS-COV-2 (TNA2) vaccines or antiviral drugs have so far not been able to prevent or effectively treat the viral infection.
Scientists say that COVID-19 is a prime example of a cross-species transmission —simply put, it means viruses that jump from one category to another. The new coronavirus first appeared in a fish market in Wuhan, China where fresh fruits and vegetables, live fish, birds and animals are sold. The virus is thought to have been transmitted from one bird or animal to another and later to humans.
Wuhan is the capital of Huba Province, China. It is the most populous city in China with over 11 million people. From here, the Han River flows rapidly into the Yangtze. It is an important commercial and industrial transportation hub. With more than 350 research institutes, 1,656 high-tech ventures, numerous enterprise incubators, and investments from 230 Fortune Global 500 firms, the city of Wuhan is well-connected globally.
The virus spread rapidly from Wuhan to other cities in China, and later to other parts of the world. Although it started in November 2019, it was thought to be a common viral fever. Recognising the seriousness of this, Chinese health workers and the government ignored warnings. On 29th December, 2019, the first COVID-19 death was confirmed in Wuhan. Subsequently, on 3rd January, 2020, 44 COVID cases were reported in a singe day. Of these, 11 cases were found to be extremely serious.
Within weeks, this number had more than doubled. It first affected China as well as other Asian countries. The coronavirus then spread to Italy and other European countries, the United States, and later to Arab countries and India. Countries such as the United States and India declared the pandemic a national health emergency or closed the country altogether to prevent the virus from spreading and prepare for emergency healthcare at almost the same time.
Lockdowns have been introduced around the world in view of the growing prevalence of the disease, and authorities across many parts of the world have opposed the protest with the available police forces, special services and army. The health statistics of the sick and the dying were collected and made a subject of multiple studies.
Several studies suggest that up to 80% of those infected may be asymptomatic carriers of the virus. That is, they transmit the virus to others without showing any symptoms of the virus. Many people have mild symptoms, similar to that of common cold, which can be cured without any special treatment. This indicates that viruses have widespread within the community.
COVID-19 is extremely dangerous to some people. Elderly people, people with heart disease, diabetes, chronic lung disease, or serious illnesses such as cancer and pneumonia are at a higher risk of developing symptoms of the virus. In this case, it is rare for such people to survive.
The cases that are now being confirmed are considered just the tip of the iceberg. For many, the case goes unreported. The lack of inspection systems is evident in many developed countries. It is still low in most of the developing countries. The exact number of COVID-19 patients and deaths is unknown. Many in the social literature go without adequate scrutiny.
First, this is not the first time that the world is facing a pandemic. During World War I, H1N1 viruses with avian genes caused the deadly influenza. The Spanish Influenza of 1918-19 affected 500 million people — 1.5% of the world’s population at that time — and at least 50% of the 50 million infected may have died. But some estimates put the death toll at a 100 million.
Infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, SARS, MERS, Ebola, Sica, avian, swine flu and Nipah have also been reported recently. The H1N1 virus, reported in 2009, is the most common form of swine flu. In the United States alone, 60.8 million people were infected, 2,74,000 were hospitalised, and 12,500 people died. It is estimated that the H1N1 virus may have killed more than a million people worldwide. A research estimates that the H1N1 pandemic may have affected 11% to 21% of the global population, or at least one billion people, so far.
COVID-19 is the most dangerous infectious disease after influenza. According to Tedros Adanom Gebrias, head of the World Health Organisation, the new coronavirus is 10 times more deadly than the 2009 pandemic. COVID-19 proves that even in the richest economies on the planet, humans are still just ordinary human beings.
Zoonotic infections and diseases transmitted from other organisms to humans are on the rise. Of the 335 new infectious diseases identified by scientists since 1940, two-thirds have been found to be caused by wildlife, especially bats. COVID-19 certainly highlights the danger to humans from such diseases, and draws public attention to infectious diseases and public health.
Second, the character of COVID-19 is likely to change, as did black death in the fourteenth century Europe. Political leaders imposed shipbuilding, travel bans and unprecedented lockdowns, the power of the centers of power increased considerably. Many fear that once the pandemic is over, these extraordinary emergency forces will become key features of liberalism.
Third, COVID-19 breaks down many of the decrees and its institutions that emerged after World War II. US President Donald Trump called COVID-19 the Chinese virus and then the Wuhan virus at the US State Department G7 summit. This exacerbated the US-China conflict. The United States has cut off funding to the World Health Organisation (WHO), which is believed to have a very friendly relationship with China.
Competition is not about cooperation, it seems in today’s world order. International institutions are significantly weakening. Countries around the world are competing for healthcare devices and medicines, to find an effective vaccine. The world’s largest pharmaceutical laboratories are doing the same.
Fourth, COVID-19 has caused the largest economic earthquake since the Great Depression of 1929. The free flow of goods, services and people has stopped. The supply chain has been disrupted. The need has dried up. Deficits, debt and unemployment have risen sharply. Millions of people around the world have gone jobless. COVID-19 is moving forward through a proportional economic crisis, creating a historic economic model.
Fifth, COVID-19 focuses on a sharp environment. Cities around the world can hear the sounds of birds chirping and see a blue sky. It is now clear that the world will be a more comfortable habitat if pollution is a little less. If things go back to normal after the end of the pandemic, climate change will destroy a very complex ecosystem. Many bacteria that are currently inactive under the permafrost that melts in tissues and cells pose a threat to the release of dangerous viral infections. It is already clear that the environmental conditions are different than before.
Finally, COVID-19 has an incalculable impact on society. On the one hand, solidarity is growing in many directions. Many are helping their neighbours and showing kindness to strangers. On the other hand, some have also been victim to hatred and discrimination.
Racism against Asians and other minorities is on the rise in the West. As in the case of African expatriates in China, hostility and domestic violence against anyone with the disease has increased significantly in developing countries such as India and Pakistan, as well as in rich countries such as the United Kingdom and France.
Many interesting trends are emerging. As more than half of the world’s population is forced to live at home, remote work is on the rise. In addition, many classes have moved online, restaurants have closed, some people are eating healthier, while most are not, sale and use of intoxicants has rise, so has the use of television gaming and pornography. In poor countries, people are struggling to put food on the table.
All of these factors will persist for a long time in the community. COVID-19 will create a new world. It will take some time to reveal its full features.
About the author: Sunil is a Communication Associate at the Institute for Sustainable Development and Governance.