Covid-19 in perspective
The ongoing tsunami of stories and scientific reports on Covid-19 continues to wash over us. Some key themes have emerged.
- DISRUPTOR: Covid-19 is among the greatest disruptors of human life on earth of the past century in terms of lives lost, lives impaired, economies devastated, cultures disrupted, and more. Climate change is its only equal. Yet in fact, dozens of disruptors are at work in the global polycrisis — social, environmental, technological and financial/economic. We need to understand Covid-19 in that context. (For more on the global polycrisis, visit our sister sites Resilience Project or Omega.)
- ORIGIN The way the virus jumped to humans is still unclear. While it may have come from a Chinese wet market in Hunan, it might have come out of one of two research labs working with bat viruses in that city. The Chinese vigorously deny this, but the possibility remains.
- GAP: Covid-19 has heightened the gap between rich and poor both within countries and among countries. The economic disruption may well damage as many lives as the virus itself.
- VACCINES: Covid-19 vaccines were created in record time. They have dropped mortality and morbidity dramatically in the countries where they are available. But new variants reduce the efficacy of some vaccines significantly. Substantial numbers of people in all countries are refusing vaccination — and often masks and social distancing as well. Billions of people don’t have access to the vaccines and won’t for the near foreseeable future. That means the virus will have ample space and time to continue to evolve.
- DIPLOMACY: Vaccine diplomacy has emerged as a geopolitical tool. Who gets what vaccines, when, where, and how will have a powerful impact on every facet of global relationships.
- WINNERS: The undisputed economic winners to date are the big tech and big pharma companies as Covid-19 transforms the way we meet, communicate, buy goods and services, travel, and live. Authoritarian regimes can benefit if they are perceived as handling the virus well. Regimes that aren’t perceived as handling the virus well can be shaken or deposed.
- LOSERS: The greatest economic losers have been all the people and businesses that depend on people being able to congregate, travel, shop as they used to, work as they used to, and live as they used to.
- OPEN VS. CLOSED ECONOMIES: The verdict is still out on whether strict controls will work better long-term than more open economies with vaccines and social hygiene. Sweden tried to keep its economy open with debated results. China is among the countries with the strongest social controls. But controls are always temporary measures. When they are relaxed the virus will return. There is a difference between a “cowboy” attitude toward keeping economies open with disdain for social hygiene and refusal of vaccines and a more careful approach that encourages social hygiene and vaccines but emphasizes the social and economic benefits of an open economy. The outcomes will also differ in different cultures with different approaches to individual liberties.
- INTEGRATIVE THERAPIES & REPURPOSED DRUGS: Integrative therapies and repurposed drugs have been underutilized in the US and many other countries. Some of these therapies are being approached rationally. Others, most notably ivermectin, have been caught in political maelstroms that have inhibited their evaluation as well as the objective evaluation and dissemination of existing studies. Ivermectin is being widely used for Covid-19 globally despite controversies. The debate continues on its efficacy in both prevention and treatment.
- SOCIAL CONTROL: Technologies to address Covid-19 overlap heavily with the social control technologies used to address terrorism and, in authoritarian countries, other forms of social deviance. Since Covid-19 will not go away, these social control technologies will become more prevalent, deployed either coercively or as an option with varying degrees of penalty for not using them. Covid passports are an example. Covid-19 joins terrorism as one of the pillars of social control technologies in both authoritarian and more democratic countries. These advances in social control technologies are likely to increase further.
- ADAPTATION: Covid-19 will join other viruses we have learned to live with. Future viruses will also join our biological and social community. Most viruses adapt over time by weakening their impact since they do better by keeping their host alive longer. Culturally and economically, countries around the world are adopting to the Covid-19 era, finding new ways to live and work. There will be continuous cross-cultural learning from the varied experiments in how to live with this latest addition to our human community.
- LESSONS LEARNED: None of the rigid positions about how to respond to the virus will emerge unscathed. The theory that we would eradicate the virus, widely promulgated in the early days, turns out to be untrue. Another lesson learned is how the virus is transmitted — yet many of the hygienic measures created when it was assumed surface contact was a major vector remain in place. The theory that the CDC version of “following the science” is indisputable holy writ can also be questioned, especially since the evidentiary rules for evaluating treatments are bent in different directions depending on non-scientific factors. Convalescent plasma, for example, was rushed into use without clinical trials while ivermectin, a much safer, less expensive, and widely available drug, is held to rigorous standards.
- WHAT IS NEEDED: What is needed in the ongoing tsunami of scientific, economic, political, social, cultural, environmental, technological and simply human developments are ways of interpreting and understanding the significance of one of the greatest evolving disruptors of our time. One critical dimension mentioned at the start is understanding the virus as one dimension of the global polycrisis. Two dozen social, environmental, technological, and economic-financial vectors are transforming the world. They are interacting unpredictably and with increasing force. They are creating future shocks that often find us unprepared to respond. We need to understand Covid-19 as one element in the global polycrisis, not as the stand-alone transformative. Like Covid-19, the global polycrisis won’t go away. We have no choice but to learn to live with it.