Unprecedented Times and an Unprecedented Response
The current environment would have been almost impossible to comprehend just a few months ago. Even coming into February when it felt like the media were overhyping the first few cases of coronavirus in the west, we couldn’t have imagined it would get to this. Let’s just presume you were offered a bet on new year’s eve that by March one quarter of the world population would be on lockdown, the 2020 Olympics would be postponed, international borders would close and the only place you’d be allowed is the supermarket but even then you must not get within 2 metres of the next person. Would you have wagered $100 on it? Would you have wagered $10 or even $1 on it?
Not only is the size and scale of the coronavirus spread itself so stark but so too is the response by Governments and communities. Yes there are a plethora of bold conspiracy theories but even just the direct, legitimate responses to the Coronavirus spread and economic damages are truly extraordinary. A $2 trillion emergency support package put together by the US government is remarkable. The paycheck protection loan program, a $349 billion scheme designed to allow the Government to in effect pay all small business wages (companies under 500 employees) for the next 8 weeks is too. Stimulus packages such as these have quite literally never been seen before. This economic downturn isn’t like usual recessions. There aren’t the issues in the underlying economy that we saw in 2008, so the government believes it needs to fight for as many individuals and small businesses to survive as possible. The question remains however, will the coronavirus crisis prove a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to remake society and build a better future together or will it send societies down more wretched paths?
Coronavirus – A Catalyst for Change but Good or Bad?
The former prime minister of the UK, Gordon Brown has called for the creation of a temporary form of global government to be assembled in order to provide a unified body to tackle the coronavirus. For an international virus, a unified international response makes sense. However, quite naturally, this raises a cause of concern for many. A Global Government ruling the world and more power in the hands of fewer. If humans by nature were completely rational than perhaps internationalism would make sense at the moment – more tests, more respirators and more ventilators sent to the countries and ultimately human beings that need it most. But with many countries feeling they can’t protect their own population right now, how can we begin to transition to a global concept? The coronavirus is even putting to test the strength of the EU’s unity at the moment. Germany has taken patients from France and Italy into its hospitals but it has also rejected a plea by Italy, Spain, France and other EU nations to share debt incurred by the coronavirus in the form of corona/eurobonds. Tensions have even led to viral videos of EU flags being burned in Italy.
In Hungary, Parliament recently voted by 137 to 53 to accept the government’s request for the power to rule by decree during the coronavirus emergency. The law contains no time limit and the Prime Minister Viktor Orban is famed for favouring what he’s described as an illiberal democracy. Where is the line drawn between coronavirus related and business as usual policies? Critics and human rights groups believe the prime minister could look to use this time to make key changes to their criminal code which could lead to independent journalists being imprisoned. In Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has closed the courts and authorized the use of cellphone data for public health efforts. In effect tracking those known to have contracted COVID-19 and identifying who has been in close contact with these people. Then contacting these individuals and asking them to self quarantine. The concern is clear, for autocrats the coronavirus is the perfect opportunity to grab even more power. The key focus is that these measures are temporary but will they ever relinquish them and could change already have been initiated?
Can We Predict The End of Coronavirus?
Looking less further afield and into less extreme circumstances ‘normality’ is still a long way off. Even if permitted, when will individuals and society regain the confidence for normal social interaction? When will we feel completely safe to venture to our local coffee shop or cinema? Understandably, some probably can’t wait to get out but also equally understandable are those feeling anxious and overwhelmed at the prospect. The Cowen Investment Group recently met with Dr. Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration and had this to report, “With the available data so far, Dr. Gottlieb believes April could be when COVID-19 cases would peak, June could be when regulations will start to loosen up albeit with reasonable protective measures like wearing masks… he expects persistent limitations on the size of public gatherings, at least in parts of the country, as we head into July and August”.
Politicians look to put a date on a recovery timescale as it’s vital to keep the nation upbeat and light at the end of the tunnel. Friends and family who seem to be ‘in the know’ or getting the ‘inside scoop’ of coronavirus developments always seem very sure of what might happen and when. Yet when we hear from any medical expert, some with decades of medical training, they tell us nothing can be guaranteed at the moment. Dr Simon Clarke, professor of cellular microbiology at the University of Reading explains “It is impossible to put a date on it… if anyone tells you a date they are staring into a crystal ball. The reality is that it will be with us forever because it has spread now.”
Right now, there is no exit strategy. Social distancing is helping to ‘flatten the curve’ and scientists are working around the clock for a vaccine but until either a vaccine (estimated 12-18 months) or herd immunity is developed (estimated 2-3 years) there really is no way to definitively break from coronavirus. Even when these are developed we should still expect a smaller number of cases to continue.
As the old adage goes, the only two things certain in life are death and taxes. Spiritual teachers will tell us, control is an illusion and we as humans should embrace the fact that nothing is in our control. The world feels incredibly uncertain right now and not just because of the spread of coronavirus. The fact that any one of us could catch it at any time, or perhaps pass it to others without even knowing is of course scary. But it feels even more strange because we’ve also learnt that literally everything in life as a whole can change at any minute. So you have to ask, who fancies a $10 bet that life will ever be the same again?