Life in times of a pandemic: Some good,temporary or permanent, might come out

Ivinder Gill
global economy, china, coronavirus, nitrogen dioxide, Lower carbon footprint, power consumption, paracetamol, coronavirus pandemic

It’s not a two-hour film, where contagion spreads, the horror mounts, bodies pile up, devastation peaks, and it all ends with stories of selfless bravery and a miracle cure. All of us are actually living through the nightmare of a pandemic and, barring the miracle cure, we have seen it all, as the death count increases, global economy tanks, and we reconsider and revalue what we thought was a given - travel, medicines, healthcare, even something like toilet paper.

Technology surely trumps many other things we have come to appreciate, as easy and instant communication is not merely convenient, but a lifesaver. The virtues of telemedicine have never been more realised than now, and the benefits could be recognised in diverse ways, making healthcare more accessible and affordable. Internet and its various tools help us work from home, enabling not just safety from contamination, but also flexi hours. This could lead to more inclusion, especially of women, in the workforce, resulting in more permanent change in paradigms. Meetings, from offices to large forums, are being held via live chats and conference calls, and if not all, certainly many people and organisations would realise the benefit of incorporating these measures long-term. Incidentally, the forced time spend at home also means more family time.

The collateral benefit? Lower carbon footprint, in terms of less travel and lower power consumption, to name just a few. The impact of the outbreak on the environment, even if temporary, has been significant. Just see NASA pictures of nitrogen dioxide levels over China before and after the outbreak - the ominous yellow and red are all but gone. With manufacturing down and travel curtailed because of visa bans and cancelled events, emission levels have plummeted worldwide. This could buy more time for action on climate change.

While the resultant impact on the global economy, as we face a 2008-like recession, might take years to level out, on a very small but significant level, maybe it teaches us the importance of not over-indulging, in recycling, tightening our spending, and curtailing consumerism.

When it comes to food, we have invariably become more wary of meat and imported foods. This not only means healthier eating as we opt for local and seasonal produce and ingredients, it is also beneficial for the planet’s health when we turn to foods with lower carbon footprint. How long this mindset lasts is an incalculable estimate, but all this can translate into more conscious living which need not be an interim measure.

The takeaways extend to much more than just basics. The epicentre of the pandemic being China also teaches the world a lesson not to put all its eggs in a single basket, sourcing everything from paracetamol to phones from one single country. It's also an opportunity for other countries to present themselves as alternative manufacturing hubs. Can they rise to the occasion?

In the end, a sobering thought. However humans might like to believe they rule this planet, exploiting its resources and forcing thousands of species into extinction, a unicellular organism that can't even be seen has the potential to bring humanity to its knees. That nature likes equilibrium, not entropy, should not be forgotten.