Although it has been affecting humans for some three months now, COVID-19 is a virus that has much mystery. Despite intense efforts by scientists and doctors we do not know for sure how it is transmitted, how long it is incubated, at what stage it is infectious, what is the likelihood of re-infection, or how far it has penetrated the human or animal population. There is no known cure or antidote, and no-one knows how long the pandemic will last nor what the long term impact will be. It is not an easy situation.
At this critical time, each of us has a responsibility to help ourselves and each other. Pragmatism and not panic is key. Because the virus can be invisible, it behoves us on behalf of our own wellbeing as well as the interests of family and community to be cautious – not fearful – in our everyday living not just to protect ourselves but also to protect those with whom we may have contact directly or indirectly. It is not the time to be selfish.
Hysteria is more damaging than the reality of any epidemic, and so to be aware of the situation and the latest medical advice while continuing to live life sensibly will help enormously. While good hand hygiene and health monitoring is well-advised by the experts, to consider also the implications of unnecessary international travel and holidays, and attendance at big gatherings could be sensible. This is about more than just you, it is about community although it is also about your choices. Do you remember the (true) story of Typhoid Mary?
While the long term future is uncertain, COVID-19 and other developments have the potential to change our world for ever. The impact of the virus upon business is enormous already, and it highlights a global and perhaps unhealthy dependency upon China that in a time of crisis proves it to be a system that does not work. It may be that countries will choose to outsource their manufacturing requirements to home-grown companies in future, and that the approach to globalisation will change to become one much more of national self-sufficiency and maximising choice and availability over cost-saving economies of scale.
A recession is likely now, and world economics may be very different afterwards. Public attitudes may change too, contributing to the new financial dynamics: there may be less travelling, fewer vast holiday hotels and juggernaut cruise liners where thousands of strangers from hundreds of countries mingle together. For the sake of the environment that would be a beneficial development though for investors, holiday firms and airlines it may not be good news. It is not by chance that the dramatic slowdown in Chinese manufacturing has coincided with a welcome reduction in air pollution there, and the spread of COVID-19. Social adjustment to a new world order can be painful, but it is not the time to be selfish.
Globalisation may be threated also by climate change. There is a new reality of recurring costly weather events with implications for the insurance markets which underpin our financial systems and also governments which will be asked to pay but for whom there will be a limit to reimbursement. Additionally and very importantly, a significant court ruling in the UK relating to the expansion of Heathrow Airport declared, in effect, that the requirements of the Paris Accord on Climate Change had legal priority over arguments of business opportunity. In other (my) words, the needs of the environment are more important than making money, and all plans for development in the UK have to be considered in that context. It will be interesting to see how far this applies to all signatories of the Accord.
In so many ways, then, the needs and actions of the Planet are dominating our human world. Every crisis is a result of human failure relating to Gaia, whether it be fires, floods, or COVID-19, and she will continue to remind us of how we can do better until we hear and act, and change our ways. It truly and in so many ways is not the time to be selfish.