According to the World Health Organization (WHO), COVID-19 is the worst public health crisis of our generation with the largest death toll. Figures from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control say that as of September 24th, there have been around 40 Million confirmed cases and over 978, 284 deaths spanning over 177 countries. Around 21 million people have also recovered from the virus.
Governments all over the globe imposed lockdowns and urged people to stay home and practice social distancing to prevent contagion. Masses were advised to disinfect surfaces and wash their hands as often as they possibly can, among other precautions.
After months under lockdown, countries slowly started relaxing restrictions and began the process of going back to “normal”. Public spaces have been opening back up and plans have been set in place to reopen schools as well. People are still being urged to take precautions and follow SOPs to curtail further infection.
The last few months have taught us many things. The COVID-19 pandemic has drawn our attention to weaknesses in our societies and healthcare systems. Even in most developed countries, healthcare systems are struggling to cope. Economies all over the world began to collapse as governments struggled to keep them afloat.
One of the biggest lessons this pandemic has taught us is that global healthcare needs an overhaul. Alanna Shaikh, a global healthcare expert, says that this is most likely not the last epidemic we will face, and we were grossly unprepared for this one as it is. Even though Pakistan has been lucky enough to not have suffered as much as many others in terms of the rising number of infections and total deaths so far. The pandemic has still highlighted the shortcomings of our Healthcare system. At its peak in Pakistan, we lacked enough ventilators on hand to support COVID-19 patients.
Circumstances like a Pandemic often shed light on the various inequalities, based on factors like a race to income, faced by populations worldwide. Not all citizens have access to healthcare. Government hospitals lack the capacity to provide services to everyone and private facilities are extremely expensive. There is also the fact that some remote areas do not have hospitals, to begin with.
Similarly, minorities in other countries were also denied these facilities. An example is the African-American populations in the US, who had higher numbers in infections but a disproportionately small number of them gaining access to treatment or even testing.
Another lesson is that even though it may be our best chance of keeping everyone safe, we are always reluctant to put out lives on hold. This, of course, is natural. Human beings are extremely social creatures. Isolation can have numerous negative effects on our mental and even physical health. As we saw in Pakistan and other countries, people resisted the restrictions placed upon them, even when presented with evidence that it was the right thing to do.
This brings up another important lesson. The media plays an extremely significant role during such times. They must fulfil their role of spreading as much information as possible. In addition, they also play the role of pacifiers for the masses to keep them from panicking while also ensuring that they take the threat seriously.
As we saw initially when people first learned about the virus they started panicking. Citizens in the US started hoarding groceries, and Pakistanis started buying medication and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). This led to massive drops in supplies all over the world. Therefore we learned that as societies, and human beings, we need to be more considerate. Hoarding will do more harm than good. We need to strike the right balance between taking precautions, taking pandemics seriously, and also keeping social fear in check.
As governments all over the world have relaxed lockdown restrictions over the last few weeks, it was observed that people get desensitized to such situations over time. While some are still making efforts to stay home as much as they can and take all necessary precautions, many have moved on with life. They take some precautions here and there, like wearing a mask. But for the most part, especially in Pakistan, we seemed to have put the pandemic out of our minds.
This could also be a consequence of the news changing. Over the last few weeks, news channels have moved onto other issues. Therefore, the masses have also moved on to these other issues.
It has also been observed that viruses and outbreaks like this one are extremely unpredictable. COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus, meaning it has just now been discovered. We don’t know enough about it. This is why information on it has been changing every few days. We could never really predict its behaviour. Reports have shown that it has interacted differently with different populations.
For instance, the death toll from the virus and the rate of infection was extremely high for some European nations as well as the US. However, they were disproportionately low in Pakistan, especially seeing as we didn’t even have a lockdown as strict as in these countries. This tells us that we do not know all there is about the virus and some populations’ interaction with it.
One of the most significant lessons we’ve learned during this pandemic is to pay special attention to how we interact with the planet. As Allana Shaikh said, this will not be the last outbreak. Due to climate change, they are bound to happen again. According to Shaikh, rising temperatures make the planet a more hospitable environment for virus growth.
In addition, she says that this is also a result of humans “pushing into the last wild spaces on the planet”. When these spaces are exploited, we come into contact with populations we have never been in contact with before. These populations have diseases, bacteria, and viruses we have never had to deal with and thus, are unprepared for.
Shaikh says, “ As long as we keep making our remote places less remote, the outbreaks are going to keep coming”. Therefore as a human race, we need to reevaluate our relationship with the planet if we want to be able to prevent or prepare for future pandemics.
It wouldn’t be an understatement to say that COVID-19 has permanently changed the world as we knew it. It’s impossible to even begin to understand all the various lessons this pandemic has taught us as a nation and as a human race. It has brought out strengths and shed light on our numerous weaknesses.
More importantly, it has been an opportunity for retrospection and changes in perception. Humans, as a race, need to reevaluate our priorities and understand the magnitude of the situation. We need to adapt to this new world and be open to the many lessons this crisis has taught us so far and will continue to teach.