Covid 19 is an unwelcome pandemic that disrupts a lot of people’s life. But it’s also a good time to reorient our lives and reflect a little.
It is the first ever pandemic experienced by most– except for the centenarians, but is not the first ever pandemic that has been experienced by humankind. In 14th century, Black Death killed up to 200 million people–around 30% to 60% of the Europe population. Spanish flu that happened in last century infected 500 million– about one third of the world’s population and decimated about 20 to 50 million people, around 3% of the world population. However potent is Covid 19, it won’t be able to match the death toll wrecked by Black Death or Spanish flu. Covid 19 is not the most devastating pandemics ever experienced by human, as a species we have seen far worse, and we survive and thrive.
By comparison, Covid 19 is really relative mild. But then, we tend to place more emphasis on it because of availability bias— it’s happening in recent times and tend to be the only pandemic that people know. The short sightedness contributed to a lot of panic– people lining up to snatch food, daily supplies and other necessities– which were quite unnecessary when you think about it. It also revealed how easily human can be herded and manipulated. In the age where the speed of news travels at the speed of light, it’s just so easy to whip the mass into frenzy in the shortest amount of time by exaggerating a small threat.
But having good knowledge is an antidote to mass hysteria. Even though it’s still ongoing, but with its current death tolls of 340 thousands, I’m highly doubtful that it will ever kill as many people as Spanish flu, both in terms of percentage and in terms of absolute numbers. True, we still have to do our parts to minimize the risks of flu spreading, but we really shouldn’t act as if it was the end of the world. By the time we are ready to say goodbye to this world, I even doubt whether Covid 19 would register as a significant event in our lives. For most people its importance certainly can’t be compared to the experience of getting married, fathering a child or getting a new job.
And no matter how draconian is the preventive measure, Pandemics will be here to stay, always. Even if ( and that’s a pretty big if) we do manage to come up with a Covid 19 vaccine, there is no guarantee that it won’t mutate into a different, more potent strain. After all, this is what virus does, it mutates, survives and propagates just like human. What can’t kill us makes us stronger, same goes to virus. The war against virus and infection is not a war that can be win by either side. This is the old normal that a lot of people tend to overlook.
During the lockdown period, we also get cleaner air and better water quality– Himalaya mountains can bee seen from some parts of India for the first time in 30 years, Sungai Melaka is green and clean and even the wild boars were coming out to feast at the hill of Bukit Wawasan, Puchong!
All these should make it pretty clear that our so-called economy processes were purchased at the great expense of the environment. The more “developed” we become, the more serious the pollution is, and the more endangered our biodiversity. When the economists measure the GDP, biodiversities and virgin forests are not a part of the equation, neither is the quality of the air and rivers. Such a lopsidedness skews our values and government’s policies for many years, it’s time to correct it.
And there is always a blessing in disguise, even for those who are hit the hardest. Remember the Black Death that wiped out 30% to 60% of the European population? But it did leave behind a profound and positive impact: the massive deaths cause a reorientation of the society in Europe, which in turn, directly or indirectly, led to the emergence of Renaissance. Renaissance in turn caused the Industrial and Scientific Revolution, which in turn raised our standards of living by leaps and bounce. Black Death also spread to China, but thanks to better ( centralized) government measures and other factors, the impact wasn’t as acute. In fact the Imperial China ( compared to its contemporary Europe feudalism) was doing an amazingly good job at taking care of its people in the time of needs, and providing the stability to the society. The downside is that too much stabilities maintain the status quo, and stifle innovation and breakthrough.
There will always be a tomorrow. A post Covid 19 will be a different environment for all of us. How well we can fare in this new environment depends very much on how we view it. If we just lament that yesterday was better, and yearn for a return to a better “yesterday” because of the familiarity and stability, we are missing the chance to reinvent ourselves. New opportunities that are not normally available are sprouting up as a result of environmental changes, it’s up to us to grab and exploit them.